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Teacher Vaccinations In Florida Still A Long Shot

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Teachers around the country are trying to find their place in line for the coronavirus vaccine. And while that spot is reserved in some places, close to home they are being shut out. 

“Educators want nothing more than to be back, in person with their students,” said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, the largest teacher’s union in the country.

Pringle says the union has been asking for strong guidance from the federal government.

“All we’ve been calling for for 10 months is putting in place those mitigation strategies that the CDC says need to be strictly enforced, all of them, for students to return safely to in-person learning. And we’ve been calling for that, we haven’t gotten it yet. But now we have vaccines. And that gives a lot of additional hope for this extra layer of support.”

But for a large portion of the country, teachers are not allowed to get those vaccines. According to a recent report in Education Week, only 27 states have made at least some of their teachers eligible for vaccination. Florida is not on that list and, according to the report, teachers in the state are not a priority for vaccination and there is no proposed date for that to change.

The National Education Association has done their own research. “We surveyed our members recently and we found out that only 18% of them have now been vaccinated" said Pringle. "And we also know that over 70% of them want to be vaccinated.”

In the districts where in class education has resumed on some level, the NEA’s research show that collaboration is the key to success.

“It’s really determined by whether or not they are collaborating with educators. And it’s certainly determined by whether or not they have mitigation measures in place. We have teachers in classrooms where they are buying PPE. for themselves and their students. That’s not okay. We know (that) the government, the federal government, the state government should be stepping up to make sure that educators and students have the tools and resources they need to be safe and to stay safe.”

Pringle says her members are hopeful that the new administration will have a more coordinated response to the pandemic and to reviving in-person classes.

“When President Biden was inaugurated he promised that he was going to get control of the coronavirus and he was going to partner with the states. He was going to partner with educators. He was certainly going to partner with and listen to the infectious disease experts to do all of that. And he started that work, because what he inherited was a chaotic mess and that resulted in, unfortunately, I know you’ve heard these stories of vaccine doses being unused, not being where they needed to be to begin to vaccinate those most vulnerable populations. Not having guidance to call for, like the CDC has called for, and he’s calling for educators being on that priority list.”

The NEA survey of 3,305 K-12 members and 177 higher education members was conducted from January 27 to February 3, 2021. Pringle says that her biggest take away from the results is that teachers really want to be back in front of their students.

“They really, really do. And they are looking to our government to make sure they have what they need to do that.”

While the state of Florida has not prioritized educators for vaccination, the state of Alabama did as of February 8. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has consistently refused to give teachers under the age of 65 access to the COVID-19 vaccine.