Teachers unions speak out against lower vaccination priority

gray concrete building under blue sky during daytime
Boston City Hall, Government Center. Photo by Mark McLaughlin.

By Nyah Jordan
Boston University News Service

Two teachers unions and the Boston City Council are pushing for educators to be higher on the prioritization list for the COVID-19 vaccine.

This push from educators comes as a number of teachers are being required to work in-person. 

On Jan. 4, Massachusetts modified their priority list for the vaccine, causing The American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts (AFTM) and the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) to speak out against Gov. Charlie Baker’s decision to change the COVID-19 vaccine priority list, placing some workers, including educators, lower on the list of people who are qualified for the vaccination.  

K-12 educators were moved into phase two’s third tier, behind people ages 65 and 75 years and older.

Merrie Najimy, the MTA president who has been pushing for more educators to be vaccinated, said she does not want teachers to wait for vaccinations due to the potential risk of becoming infected or spreading the virus to their students. 

“Vaccinating educators is a key aspect of making our schools safe, but it is not a precondition for opening buildings,” Najimy said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Massachusetts is far behind the rest of the country in prioritizing both pre K-12 educators and higher education faculty and staff.”

Nora Paul-Schultz, a physics teacher at John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, would like educators to receive the vaccine to take away some of the danger and fear of being in person.

“I am terrified of monitoring unmasked lunches in my windowless classroom,” Paul-Shultz wrote on Twitter. “Being vaccinated would ease some of those fears.”

Beth Beaulieu, an instructional coach for Salem Public Schools, is waiting for educators to start receiving the vaccine so schools can return back to normal.

“I picture myself being able to go to the library and checking out books and just doing everything that education was before this,” Beaulieu said in an interview with NBC Boston. “It would have a tremendous impact.”

Nisha Ngyuen, an elementary school math specialist for 1st and 2nd graders in Boston, is currently teaching her students remotely, and she wrote on Twitter that educators should be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. 

“As a state we are literally not even vaccinating teachers yet. I’ve always believed Massachusetts was on the forefront of science and progress and now I’m just deeply disappointed in the vaccine rollout,” Ngyuen wrote on Twitter.

While vaccinating teachers is not a requirement for reopening schools, Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu believes K-12 educators should be “immediately eligible” for the vaccine, especially those who are teaching in-person.

On Jan. 29, Wu filed a resolution calling for local vaccination plans to reflect this. According to the resolution, 23 other states have allowed educators to be deemed essential workers, giving these educators a higher spot on the vaccination list. The resolution also highlights the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices COVID-19 Vaccines Work Group’s recommendation of vaccinating frontline and essential workers, including K-12 educators, at the same time as those aged 75 years and older to combat the mortality rate of COVID-19. 

Wu previously filed an ordinance calling for a COVID-19 vaccination site in every residential zip code in the city to generate greater access to the vaccine for Black and Latino residents. Many of these sites are not near the vaccination sites that have opened.

Najimy, alongside Beth Kontos, president of AFTM, and Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, published a joint press release emphasizing that Governor Baker’s changes to the prioritization list will significantly delay the vaccination of educators, according to a Boston Globe article. 

The teachers unions also stated that a lack of action in vaccinating essential workers now will only slow down the process of returning to in person learning.

“It’s like the Hunger Games,” Najimy said in the statement. “They are forcing communities to compete with one another for a scarce resource rather than establishing a fair system with clear rules.”

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