Coronavirus

‘It’s like the Hunger Games’: Teachers’ unions upset by move down in vaccine timeline

"It is an outrage that once again the people impacted by this decision have to find out about it at a press conference."

Jonathan Wiggs / The Boston Globe

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Teachers in Massachusetts are now in the third group for the COVID-19 vaccine in Phase 2, and their unions aren’t happy about it.

Phase 2 is set to begin on Monday, and the first in line are people 75 or older who weren’t vaccinated as part of the initial phase. Then comes people 65 or older and those who have two or more comorbidities that give them an increased risk for severe illness.

Then comes teaching staff and other workers in essential jobs – grocery store workers and those who work in restaurants and cafes, utilities, transit, and food and agriculture.

Initially, teachers and other essential workers were second in line in Phase 2 to people of all ages with two or more underlying conditions that put them at risk. Those 75 or older were moved to the beginning of Phase 2 earlier this month, and those 65 or older were moved into the second group on Monday.

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 “It is an outrage that once again the people impacted by this decision have to find out about it at a press conference at the same time as everyone else, with no advance notice,” Merrie Najimy, Massachusetts Teachers Association president, said in a press release. “Our members, our students, and their families feel like pawns in a chess game — a game whose rules keep changing.” 

The unions believe the adjustment to their spot on the list could result in teachers receiving vaccines later by “several weeks or more” than anticipated, according to the release.

“If you are required to work with students in person — which thousands of educators have been doing for months now — you should be vaccinated as soon as possible for the sake of your colleagues, students, and the family members those children could infect, as well as the larger community,” Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said in the release. “To increase the number of students back in schools, we need to prioritize vaccinating educators.” 

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Those leading teachers’ unions say they think higher education staff should also be moved up to Phase 2 — they currently sit in Phase 3.

“It’s like the Hunger Games,” said Najimy. “They are forcing communities to compete with one another for a scarce resource rather than establishing a fair system with clear rules. The Baker administration must do a better job of balancing the needs of people at risk because of age and other factors with recognizing that people working with students need to be vaccinated. We had not opposed the original prioritization list because it had a rational basis and promised to deliver vaccines to educators in February. Now, those hopes may be dashed.” 

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