Texas teachers are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, health officials announced Wednesday.
Effective immediately, all Texas vaccine providers should include all school staff, Head Start program staff, and child care staff in their vaccine administration programs, according to a notice the Texas Department of State Health services sent to providers.
The notice comes after the Biden administration Tuesday urged all states to prioritize vaccinating teachers and school staff. Texas had not previously prioritized teachers. Texas received a letter from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Tuesday night directing it to expand eligibility, according to a DSHS news release.
Those eligible are “those who work in pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools, as well as Head Start and Early Head Start programs (including teachers, staff, and bus drivers) and those who work as or for licensed child care providers, including center-based and family care providers,” according to the federal directive.
State health officials said earlier this week that they expected to finish vaccinating older and most vulnerable Texans in the next few weeks and broaden eligibility to include more Texans by the end of the month.
That new group was expected to include teachers before Wednesday’s announcement, but officials have not said who else would be in that new “1C” group.
Educators and advocates have been begging the state to include teachers as it rolled out its vaccination program this winter and spring. After Abbott’s announcement Tuesday, several educator groups chastised him for removing the mask requirement without prioritizing teachers for vaccines.
“Abbott has shirked his responsibility to stick with medical advice and clarify what needs to happen to keep our schools safe. Every top health official has stressed that even with vaccinations we need to keep using the most simple tools to stop the spread,” said Zeph Capo, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, in a statement Tuesday.
If you want schools to be open – and you should want schools to be open, if they can open safely – then you need to make sure that everyone who works at those schools can get vaccinated. It’s pretty simple. Naturally, this took a nudge from the federal government for it to happen.
Dr. John Hellerstedt, who serves as commissioner for the Department of State Health Services, told the the Texas House of Representatives’ Committee on Public Health moments before the release was published that the change came after President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he will direct states to prioritize teachers and school-based staff for vaccines.
“Right now we’re planning in Texas to see how we will bring that to functioning operation,” he said. “We are actively engaged in that as a priority item.”
About 30 states currently allow teachers to get earlier access to vaccines than the general public, Biden said Tuesday. Biden added that he was “directing” the remaining states to follow suit — though he did not specify what power he planned to employ to force the change — and announced he would use a federal pharmacy program to deliver vaccines to school employees and childcare workers.
“Not every educator will be able to get their appointment in the first week, but our goal is to do everything we can to help every educator receive a shot this month, the month of March,” Biden said.
The federal directive defined the people now eligible as “those who work in pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools, as well as Head Start and Early Head Start programs (including teachers, staff, and bus drivers) and those who work as or for licensed child care providers, including center-based and family care providers.”
Good thing the vaccine supply is increasing. It would be nice if most school districts continued to require masks for everyone, so that the teachers who can’t get a vaccine in the next week or so still have some protection. The Press has more.