Will school employees be in the first wave to receive a COVID-19 vaccine?

Initial word is that educators will be considered front-line workers prioritized for vaccines, but Texas AFT will be fighting to ensure that plan continues

With the delivery of some 1.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Texas expected in mid-to-late December, school leaders and Texas AFT are urging state officials to put school employees on the list of the first front-line workers who can receive the vaccine. (The delivery announced is for the Pfizer vaccine, which requires two doses, so it would serve about 700,000 people in Texas.)

It’s uncertain at this point how quickly the vaccines will actually reach the hands of doctors and clinics to administer them, but Texas AFT President Zeph Capo said it’s clear that teachers and all school employees should be among vulnerable populations to be offered the vaccines. “We continually hear how important it is to get teachers and students back to in-person instruction, so it makes perfect sense to protect the people that would be on our school campuses,” he said. “Remember, though, with that strategy you are helping safeguard adults on campus, but you’re not adding too much more protection for the students who get infected at school, and then possibly spread it to their families or the community.”

Health-care workers and other vulnerable populations like those in long-term-care facilities likely will be in the top tier for vaccine offerings. School employees (except a reference to school nurses) are not specifically mentioned in original Texas Health and Human Services recommendations for tiers of vaccine recipients. However, data needed from TEA is listed in a Texas Department of State Health Services vaccination plan draft for “Vulnerable and Frontline Populations.” Texas AFT will be fighting to ensure that school employees are indeed included in the initial vaccination offerings. 

The vaccine news comes against the backdrop of careless disregard shown in many districts for school employee safety. With spiking infections and hospitalization rates in Texas–as well as the likelihood for even more after the Thanksgiving holiday–many districts have refused demands for instruction to go back to remote instruction up to at least the winter break. Even more disheartening is the increasing trend of districts denying almost all requests for ADA accommodations, such as remote work for those with medical conditions putting them at greater risk.

Unfortunately, state officials like the governor and commissioner of education–despite our call for them to act–are not taking the lead in keeping school employees safe. So, it’s up to local efforts to get the job done, and several Texas AFT local unions and groups have stepped up with safety committees to at least open lines of communications with administrators.