TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s teachers want to be a priority when it comes to the vaccine. Union leaders and educators said this week inoculation will guarantee safety and a return to quality, in-person learning. But as the state seeks to Rebound with its first available doses— where teachers stand in line is unclear.
Laura McDermott, a Leon County elementary teacher, has spent three months teaching herself how to cope with the new normal of online education. In that time, she’s dealt with tech issues, concentration problems, and more.
“This will be my 18th year of teaching and I’ve had to learn a lot,” she said. “I think we all agree that— at this age, first grade— learning in person is ideal.”
While she wants to get back in front of her kids, McDermott doesn’t want to get sick. Florida has had more than 20,000 cases in K-12 schools since September.
Forthcoming COVID vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna could be the remedy, allowing better safety in classes. The Centers for Disease Control has issued recommendations on initial recipients, spotlighting healthcare workers, and long-term care residents. States will have the final say.
Andrew Spar, a union leader who heads the Florida Education Association, said it is unclear when Florida will get to educators.
“We haven’t seen a real clear plan on what the governor is going to do,” said Spar. “Let’s make sure that we have a real plan and a quick plan to distribute the vaccine and make sure that our educators and frontline workers are at the top of that list.”
In line with CDC guidance, Gov. Ron DeSantis has said long-term care residents and critical health workers should come first. He told reporters at the White House this week, the timeline for teachers will hinge on drugmaker Johnson & Johnson.
“We’re hoping the J&J comes online with the one dose," DeSantis said. "They’re producing it at such a scale, then we get that out so teachers can get it,” DeSantis said.
Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is still in trials and needing emergency FDA authorization. It could take until March, experts believed.
In other states, educators will likely be getting doses sooner. Arizona’s governor promised teachers would join vulnerable residents and health workers at the front of the line. Gov of Utah, Gary Herbert (R), said this week he would place educators in front of everyone.
“Parents can feel comfortable knowing that they’re going to a safe environment,” Herbert said. “Teachers likewise can feel confident they’re going to a safe environment.”
Back in the sunshine state, McDermott will be playing the waiting game. Unless Florida changes course, her chance to return to in-person learning may be months away.
“I may cry tears of joy the first day because it’s just different,” she said. “I think it will be very exciting.”
Here are some things to remember as Florida teachers call for vaccinations:
- Educators say making them a priority will speed up a return to in-person learning.
- Union leaders believe the state isn’t giving a clear timeline, however.
- Governor DeSantis says teachers will get some of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.
- That could take months to arrive.
- Other states like Utah have put educators at the front of the line.