PAHOKEE, Fla. — It could still be a while before all teachers in Florida are able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Standing just feet away from the head of the School District of Palm Beach County on Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis hinted that he has no plans to prioritize school employees who are under 65 to allow them to get vaccinated more quickly.
Instead, he remained steadfast in his mission of "Seniors First."
"Teachers, police, all that, of course a priority. But the question is, who needs to be the top priority?" DeSantis said during a news conference in Pahokee. "Seniors first is clearly the right policy. So we're gonna continue to do that."
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Last month, Palm Beach County Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy sent a letter to DeSantis, asking him to make the COVID-19 vaccine available to all school district staffers, particularly those with direct student contact.
Fennoy, who attended Wednesday's news conference at Anquan Boldin Stadium, stood quietly behind DeSantis as the governor suggested it will take some time before all teachers are eligible to receive the vaccine.
"[Teachers] are a priority. Seniors first is our first priority," DeSantis said. "We're gonna get there, and we're gonna be able to offer it to a broader population."
Hours later during Wednesday night's Palm Beach County School Board meeting, Fennoy reiterated his goal of making it easier for educators to get the vaccine.
"I have also made it clear that I would like district employees 65 or older prioritized for appointments, and that all district employees who have direct contact with students should also be prioritized," Fennoy told board members.
"If we can get the vaccine to our employees, to our teachers, to our bus drivers, to our school food service workers, we will have even more students returning to the classroom," said school board member Karen Brill. "We have to keep the pressure on."
DeSantis said a COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, which only requires one dose and has not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, could open up the possibility of doing mass vaccinations on teachers at schools.
"Particularly if it gets produced at a bigger scale, you're gonna be able to use that for police officers, for teachers, for all these folks, and it could be really, really good for us," DeSantis said.
In an important move to help educators gain access to the COVID-19 vaccine, Palm Beach County commissioners voted Tuesday to ask the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County and Health Care District of Palm Beach County to create a dedicated point of distribution site to vaccinate employees of the School District of Palm Beach County who are 65 and older.
"We have a population of students that has been severely impacted since last March. And obviously, their educational experience has been dramatically impacted," said Vice Mayor Robert Weinroth. "We need to get them back on track as quickly as possible."
Last week, the School District of Palm Beach County surveyed about 1,000 employees who are 65 and older to see how many would like the district's help in getting vaccinated.
About 200 employees said yes, according to a spokesperson.
It comes after other South Florida and Treasure Coast counties partnered with local health departments to arrange for groups of teachers and school medical personnel to receive the vaccine.
Of the 252 eligible employees in St. Lucie County Schools, 132 were vaccinated last week as part of a school district and health department initiative.
In Martin County, around 100 school employees ages 65 and older got their shots last Saturday.
The School District of Indian River County is working with the health department to vaccinate eligible school employees, school nurses, and health assistants this Saturday at the Gifford Medical Center.
The Okeechobee County School District has not had formal conversations with the health department regarding vaccinating school employees, according to a spokesperson.