As of now, the only Florida residents permitted to receive a COVID-19 vaccine are healthcare workers, senior citizens aged 65 or older and long-term care facility staff and residents. The state is not currently allocating vaccines to any other essential professions such as public transport workers, grocery workers and other critical retail employees but, most importantly, school teachers and staff members.
Teachers should receive higher priority for the vaccines for a multitude of reasons, mainly to fully reinstitute face-to-face learning after over 10 months of virtual learning. The faster teachers and other school staff members can be vaccinated, the faster online learning can become a thing of the past.
You may ask yourself: “Wouldn’t all students also need to be vaccinated to return to a normal physical school environment?” While that is true, teachers and other workers are at a much higher risk than the vast majority of students due to COVID-19’s greater impact on older people, underlying health conditions and financial ramifications a COVID-induced early retirement could bring. On top of that, the two COVID-19 vaccines currently available to the U.S. public are not even certified for use by children and teenagers, so a student vaccine mandate wouldn’t even be possible.
On Dec. 17, 2020, the Broward County school district released a memo stating all teachers and staff members still working from home had to return to school during the week of Jan. 11. While most school employees had already returned to school when the district reopened for on-campus learning in October, some received safety accommodations for pre-existing medical conditions that allowed them to continue working from home. Since that Dec. 17 memo, nearly 100 teachers and school staff have ultimately had no choice but to prematurely retire to avoid both returning to their campuses and having to take an unpaid leave.
If the state allowed school employees the same vaccine priority as healthcare workers and citizens aged 65+, many could retain their jobs and be able to return to work on campus while safely vaccinated. Instead, we will only see more and more teachers and school staff being forced to retire and lose their primary source of income because they do not want to risk their lives.
The conditions of a school campus in the midst of COVID-19 are not top-notch, and many schools have struggled to maintain the higher standards of sanitation required in this pandemic. Additionally, with students filtering in and out of several different classes each day, school workers are put in a very hazardous environment.
School-age children also pose a great risk to teachers. Elementary students may not fully understand what COVID-19 is and how to stay sanitary while at school, while middle and high school students may be more reckless and uncaring with safety protocols. All these factors contribute to a severely unsafe workplace for teachers.
After almost a year of online learning, many teachers and students alike are eager to resume face-to-face learning again. However, it is clear that schools cannot return to a state of normalcy while the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. The new mandate requiring the return of all teachers and school employees to school campuses that are dangerous and do not meet sanitation standards undeniably proves the need for them to be at a higher priority for getting a COVID-19 vaccine.