A Virginia school principal received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 12 in Alexandria.
Thousands of D.C. Public Schools educators are expected to start returning to school buildings in coming weeks, but some are worried the city's timetable for administering the COVID-19 vaccine to school workers will leave them vulnerable to the virus when campuses reopen.
School workers will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations January 25, according to city plans, a week before many in DCPS are expected to work in person for the first time in nearly a year. The two coronavirus vaccines approved by the Federal Drug Administration require two doses, given weeks apart.
Teachers and at least one elected official are urging the city to administer vaccines to school workers sooner or delay reopening until teachers can get fully vaccinated. D.C. Health and school system officials have not indicated they plan to vaccinate teachers sooner.
"We are confident that the plans developed in partnership with our individual school communities will ensure a safe return to in-person learning," D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said in a statement.
But Rachel Henighan, a second grade teacher at School-Within-School at Goding in Northeast, said she would feel "completely comfortable" returning to in-person teaching only if she were inoculated from the virus. She will likely teach a class of 10 or 11 students in person when the third quarter starts Feb. 1.
Henighan said she volunteered in early December to return to face to face teaching, before coronavirus case numbers surged across the region and before a more contagious strain of the virus was discovered in the United States. She said sending teachers back to classrooms before they can get fully vaccinated is an unnecessary risk.
"If teachers are vaccinated, that makes it safer for kids because we're less likely to carry it and to bring it into the school," she said. "We're so close to having it be safer and I don't understand the urgency of this Feb. 1 date."
Jacque Patterson, an at-large member of the D.C. State Board of Education, said the city needs to give educators higher priority for receiving the vaccine. Patterson said he has fielded concerns from many teachers worried they will be vaccinated too late and others who feel left in the dark about the vaccination process.
"They want to be safe when they go back to in-person learning," Patterson said.
The Centers for Disease Control Prevention recommends administering vaccines to groups of people based on tiers, with healthcare workers and people who live and work in nursing homes getting vaccinated first. School workers should be placed in "Phase 1b" of distribution, a group that includes people aged 65 and older and other essential workers, according to CDC guidance.
D.C. began offering vaccinations to residents 65 and older earlier this week, a process marred with technical glitches on its first day. Dozens of people eligible for the vaccine reported issues getting an appointment through the online portal the city uses to register people for the vaccine.
The FDA has authorized two COVID-19 vaccines.
The first, from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and the German company BioNTech, is 95% effective one week after the second dose, according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The second, from pharmaceutical company Moderna, is 94% effective two weeks after the second dose, according to an application the company submitted for FDA approval.
Some teachers in Northern Virginia have already received the first dose of the vaccine. In Maryland, teachers are eligible to start receiving vaccines Monday, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said during a Thursday news conference.
Some school systems in the Washington region have hit pause on reopening campuses as the number of coronavirus cases rise in the region. Montgomery County Public Schools planned on bringing small groups of students back for in-person learning at the start of February but the school board voted earlier this week to delay the reopening to March 15.
Tina DeAnna, a math instructional coach at Goding, said that is a sign D.C. schools should reconsider reopening until at least after school workers can get vaccinated. The school system plans on returning up to 15,000 students across all grade levels and has provided several in-person learning options.
The 62-year-old said she is assigned to work in person four days a week once the third quarter starts. She did not volunteer to return, fearing for her health.
"I'm very scared," she said. "I'm disappointed."
This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.