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Educators, school staff added to current vaccine tier in Washington

Jonny Velasquez, 9, wears a mask as he raises his hand with a question while working in a fourth-grade classroom on Feb. 2, 2021, at Elk Ridge Elementary School in Buckley, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Following President Joe Biden’s directive Tuesday that all states should prioritize the vaccinations of educators and school staff against COVID-19, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statement announcing that Washington is moving pre-K-12 educators, school staff, and licensed child care workers to the current vaccine tier.

The Washington State Department of Health is expected to have more information soon about how school workers can access the vaccine. The governor also warns that the state’s phase finder may not immediately reflect the changes, but “educators and licensed childcare workers can schedule with providers right away.”

Read Gov. Inslee’s full statement:

Like President Biden, I am grateful for the hard work and sacrifice of educators every day, and especially during this pandemic. The president has directed us to add preK-12 educators, school staff and licensed childcare workers to our current vaccine prioritization. This directive will be carried out through existing providers and the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, which operates through national pharmacies and independent pharmacy chains.

Therefore, we are adding educators and licensed childcare workers to Washington’s Phase 1B-1 immediately. The Washington State Department of Health will have more specific information soon on how those workers can access vaccines. Phase Finder may take time to reflect these changes, but educators and licensed childcare workers can schedule with providers right away.

The good news is that schools will be able to open and we are pleased that teachers will be back in the classroom. This should give educators more confidence to return to in-person learning and that it can be done with the safety protocols that are being used by 1,400 other schools in our state right now.

We will continue the current state plans and goals to focus on those most at risk, including older adults and those facing the greatest equity gaps.

To that end, I will soon be announcing when our state vaccine prioritization will be moving to include critical workers in certain congregate settings including those who work in grocery stores, farmworkers, food processors, bus drivers, corrections workers and others.

We will continue our progress in getting every Washingtonian vaccinated. I am grateful for the partnership of the federal government and their efforts to help move educators up in the prioritization.

President Biden said Tuesday that he wants every educator to receive their first shots by the end of the month. He also said that the U.S. expects to take delivery of enough coronavirus vaccines for all adult Americans by the end of May, two months earlier than anticipated.

Across Washington state, many school districts have been in a remote learning environment for nearly a full year. A number of local districts are currently working to develop a plan for in-person learning, with many set to return in some form this month.

Both state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal and Gov. Inslee have recently said it’s safe for students and educators to return to in-person instruction, even before staff has received the COVID-19 vaccine. However, it’s up to each district to decide its learning model.

A recent study released by the state Department of Health detailed 84 COVID-19 outbreaks in a five-month period from Aug. 1 through Dec. 31, 2020. In total, the 84 outbreaks included 305 COVID-19 cases among 13 counties. Of those cases, half were among students age 18 or under. The DOH says 64% of the outbreaks involved two or three cases. Read more about the study here.

While vaccinating school staff is expected to help reduce the size of typical outbreaks, a report from the state Department of Health and the Institute for Disease Modeling determined that the impact of vaccinations is less than other countermeasures in limiting the spread of the virus. There are ways to limit the transmission between students, teachers, and staff within schools, the report states, including known interventions, and outbreaks “will be small if countermeasures are sufficient.”

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