The Vaccine Is Coming: Educators Matter

December 10, 2020

After a long and painful wait, hope has emerged in the fight against COVID-19. Recently, the federal, state, and local governments have released information related to development and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccination. At this point, many of our students have returned to in-person learning. Though schools have strict safety protocols in place, teachers and school staff are still interacting with thousands of students and families. They are truly on the front lines, enriching the lives of our most precious community members—our children.

Given this, New Schools for New Orleans believes that educators and school staff should be highly prioritized for access when a safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine is ready for distribution.

We want to highlight a few important decisions and updates that are meant to protect our educators, school staff, and students as we continue to make progress in the fight against COVID-19.

Even Before We Have a Vaccine: Testing Prioritized

Our community has provided frontline access to COVID-19 testing for school staff and students experiencing symptoms. NOLA Public Schools has partnerships with LCMC Health, Children’s Hospital, and Ochsner Hospital for Children to provide testing via a mix of mobile units, hospitals, and urgent care facilities. Educators also have access to citywide walk-up and drive-up testing.

Moving Toward a Vaccine

Currently, vaccines produced by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are under review for emergency use authorization in the United States; Pfizer/BioNTech’s is already approved in Britain. A third vaccine, produced by Astra Zeneca, is also under review.

 

The first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine could be distributed as early as December 15th and the first doses of Moderna’s vaccine could be distributed as early as Dec. 22nd. Officials have stated that the vaccination will require two doses, spaced 3 to 4 weeks apart (depending on which vaccine is initially received).

Up to 40 million doses could be available to Americans before the end of this year, from a combination of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines. Change will not come overnight, though. There will be challenges in large-scale production, coordination of global supply chains, distribution, and cold storage. Locally, Ochsner has the deep freezers required for the necessary type of cold storage.

Distributing the Vaccine: Who Goes First?

Once it is available, the vaccine will not be distributed to everyone at once. Earlier this month, the Center for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) approved a recommendation that health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities receive the vaccine first.

 

The 40 million doses would be enough to vaccinate the 3 million people who live in long-term-care facilities, as well as most of the country’s 21 million health care workers. NSNO wholeheartedly agrees with the prioritization of healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

While these individuals take first priority throughout the country, we have indication that educators are likely to be highly prioritized in distribution, as well. In August, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency issued guidance that explicitly identified teachers and school staff as “essential critical infrastructure workers.” Other priority groups that have not yet been formally approved include essential personnel, seniors, and people with existing medical conditions.

State and Local Planning for COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

It will be up to state authorities whether to follow the federal government’s guidance. It will also be left to them to make further, more detailed decisions, if necessary — for example, whether to put emergency room doctors and nurses ahead of other health care workers if vaccine supplies are low. The Louisiana Department of Health has released its tentative vaccine roll-out plan; it is similar to the federal guidance.

 

COVID-19 Vaccine Tentative Phased Rollout Plan from the Louisiana Department of Health

Locally, the City of New Orleans’ NOLA Ready website sets forth the following similar priorities:

COVID-19 Vaccine Priorities from NOLA Ready

The New Orleans Health Department has been working closely with our federal, state, and local partners not only to determine priority groups, but also to ensure that the City is ready to distribute the vaccine, once it is approved and available. In New Orleans, vaccines will be distributed through multiple channels, such as pharmacies, doctors’ offices, places of employment, and community-based sites, such as walk-up and drive-thru locations. The City wants to ensure that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is as safe and easy as possible for everyone. They tested protocols through ongoing free flu vaccination clinics, in which the flu vaccine was distributed at 17 different sites citywide.

While the federal, state, and local authorities continue coordinating efforts to obtain and distribute vaccines, we adamantly support the highest reasonable priority for teachers and school staff when a safe and effective vaccine is available. Again, NSNO supports the prioritization of healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities; we also want to advocate on behalf of teachers and school staff. This crisis is dire, but we are collectively beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. Even after the vaccine is distributed to the vast majority of Americans, however, it will be crucial to follow guidelines set forth by trustworthy medical professionals, who can provide the best information on side effects, continued use of masks, duration of protection, and how we can all stay safe.

As acknowledged at the federal, state, and local levels, teachers and school staff are an integral part of our society. It is critical to prioritize their protection now to keep making progress in the fight against COVID-19 and to make sure they, our children, and their families are safe as our students continue to learn. These are stressful times, but we are hopeful. Our state and our city are taking this issue seriously, and they are prioritizing the needs of our school teams and our children and families.

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