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WA Superintendent: Vaccines should be ‘backstop,’ not requirement for reopening schools

Bothell High School. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Last week, Washington state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal unveiled a roadmap to getting the state’s teachers vaccinated for COVID-19. But while vaccinating school employees is definitely a priority, it’s also not seen as a necessity for getting students back into classrooms.

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Reykdal cites data presented by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which points to a “lower risk of transmission of the virus by younger children” as proof of the safety and efficacy of resuming in-person classes.

“The data speaks for itself,” he told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “The protocols are very successful when we follow them.”

“It’s not perfectly without risk, but it is mitigating the risk to the point that is consistent with what we would see in any seasonal virus,” he added.

So, why set out a large-scale plan to vaccinate teachers at all? For Reykdal, the hope is to have vaccines operate less as the end-all be-all of reopening, and more as a complementary facet.

“The vaccine becomes really a backstop,” he described. “It shouldn’t be the thing everyone requires at this point in order to open, because that’s not what the CDC suggests, and it’s not what the data points to.”

The state’s plan to vaccinate workers at Washington’s public and private schools involves a partnership with Kaiser Permanente to establish 14-20 vaccine sites between the Puget Sound region and Spokane. Those sites will be capable of offering vaccinations to over of 80% of school employees. Further plans are in the works to ensure that “more proximate sites” are also available in Central Washington.

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This plan will still exist within the state’s current phased approach to vaccinations, meaning that at this time, doses are limited to those over the age of 65 or those over 50 who live in a multigenerational household. Among public and private school employees in Washington, that phase currently consists of roughly 7,000 people. In total, the state has over 143,000 public school employees, while private schools have another 12,000.

In the meantime, with measures like improved ventilation in classrooms, mask mandates, good hand hygiene, daily screenings, and physical distancing, Reykdal believes that schools can effectively continue to bring back more students.

“We can safely do this without vaccines,” he assured. “But we’re also pushing very hard to get the vaccines ready to go when our phase comes.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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