Just as President Joe Biden challenged states to begin vaccinating teachers by the end of the month, Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka ramped up local pressure on Gov. Charlie Baker for a more “aggressive” teacher vaccination program Tuesday afternoon, particularly given the Republican governor’s new push to require schools to begin fully reopening in April.
“If the Governor wants to mandate opening elementary schools across the Commonwealth to in-person learning by April 1st, the Administration must have an equitable plan that gives communities the necessary support and resources to do that,” Spilka said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
“Among those resources, we need a vaccine program for teachers and staff that is aggressive, and we need it this month,” the Ashland Democrat said. “As more vaccine doses become available to the state, I am calling on the Governor to designate a percentage of those doses to be administered to teachers and staff in their communities.”
As more vaccine doses become available to the state, I am calling on the Governor to designate a percentage of those doses to be administered to teachers and staff in their communities. #mapoli #COVID19MA
My full statement: pic.twitter.com/OvxHPOAdfR
— Senate President Karen Spilka (@KarenSpilka) March 2, 2021
Spilka’s call comes amid intensifying tensions between the Baker administration and Democratic legislators over the state’s vaccine rollout, as well as the governor’s continued push to reopen schools. Last week, state officials announced that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will vote to change pandemic-era learning time regulations in order to effectively mandate that local school districts offer in-person classes five days a week this spring, beginning with elementary schools in April.
Teachers are currently in the next group slated to become eligible to get the vaccine under the state’s three-phase rollout.
However, some lawmakers, including House Speaker Ron Mariano, have argued that they should have been given earlier priority. Baker said in mid-February that it may take more than a month for all individuals in the most recently eligible group — residents over the age of 65 or those who have at least two qualifying medical conditions — to secure a vaccine appointment, due to the limited supply of doses.
Spilka’s request for Baker to set aside a certain percentage of doses for teachers also comes after more than 20 lawmakers signed a letter asking Baker to give the state’s 72,000 educators priority access to Johnson & Johnson’s recently approved single-shot vaccine.
The push for a more aggressive teacher vaccination program isn’t only coming from the local level.
After announcing Tuesday that the United States is now expected to have enough vaccine supply for every adult by the end of May due to a new deal to increase production, Biden called on states to administer at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to all teachers by the end of March.
The Democratic president also said the federal government would use its partnership with retail pharmacies to provide doses for educators.
“Throughout March, they will be able to sign up for an appointment at a pharmacy near them,” Biden said. “And I want to be very clear: Not every educator will be able to get their appointment in the first week, but our goal is to do everything we can to help every educator receive a shot this month.”
Baker’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. The governor has argued that mitigation measures such as face coverings, social distancing, and increased testing can allow schools to reopen safely, citing research showing that cases of in-school transmission are “rare.”
On that point, Biden agrees. But he noted Tuesday that 30 states had already prioritized educators for vaccination and said he would use “the full authority of the federal government” to direct the other 20 to do the same.
“We can reopen schools, if the right steps are taken, even before employees are vaccinated,” he said. “But time and again, we’ve heard from educators and parents that have anxieties about that. … Let’s treat in-person learning like the essential service it is.”