Teachers seek vaccine priority; Parson administration sticking with plan
Despite educators across the state pleading to receive the COVID-19 vaccine sooner, the Parson administration refuses to revise Missouri’s vaccination plan.
Teachers are classified in Phase 1B, Tier 3, of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services COVID-19 Vaccination Plan, among other workers deemed necessary to keep essential societal functions running. Missouri is currently vaccinating high-risk individuals in Phase 1B, Tier 2.
Missouri Department of Health and Senior Service Director Randall Williams has indicated that he hopes to begin vaccinating Missourians in Phase 1B, Tier 3, starting mid-to-late April.
The past five recipients of the Missouri Teacher of the Year award sent a letter to Williams requesting that Missouri school teachers and support staff be prioritized for immediate vaccination.
“Our state’s teachers and support staff have faithfully risked their lives this year,” read the statement. “We have been thanked as heroes — and just as often have been accused of ‘not doing enough.’ And yet: We have continued to place the needs of the children as our first priorities.”
The letter highlighted that 26 states chose to vaccinate educators immediately, including seven of Missouri’s eight bordering states.
Michelle Baumstark, community relations director for Columbia Public Schools, said about 10% of CPS employees have received the vaccine, but the rest will have to wait.
“There’s a lot of political pressure from our state government and others to be in-seat (for school instruction), yet teachers were put lower on the list, within that Tier 3 (1B) group.
It’s all about how those things are prioritized,” Baumstark said.
Gov. Mike Parson’s communications director, Kelli Jones, released a statement to the Missourian.
“We are doing everything we can to vaccinate as many Missourians as quickly as possible, and we look forward to the day when supply increases to the point where we can vaccinate our teachers.”
“Right now, Missouri must remain committed to protecting approximately 3 million senior citizens, health care providers, first responders, and those with underlying health conditions who are currently eligible for the vaccine,” Jones said. “It is critical that we prioritize those most vulnerable with the limited amount of vaccine currently available.”
Jones went on to cite recent CDC reports that indicate COVID-19 transmission in schools is low and in-person learning does not commonly increase community spread.
She added that proper preventative measures in schools create an environment that is unlikely to increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Columbia Missouri National Education Association President Kathy Steinhoff supported moving teachers to a higher vaccination priority.
“I definitely support it, and it’s a move some other states have made,” Steinhoff said. “It’s not about getting kids back to school, it’s about keeping the kids in school,” Steinhoff said.
In a press release Tuesday, Rep. Michael Burton, D-Lakeshire, pushed for teachers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine sooner.
“Parents, students, and educators from across the state are eager to get back in the classroom after almost a year of virtual learning, but for that to happen, teachers must immediately be made a top priority for vaccines,” read a statement released by Burton. “Saying they will ‘probably’ get their first shot in the next two to three weeks just isn’t good enough.”
Despite speaking to members of the Parson administration, Burton said he didn’t receive an adequate response, so he put out the release. He said he is hoping state leaders switch teachers’ priority level, and he is going to continue putting pressure to push the change.
“We’re right there, we’re very close to getting this done right, but we need to prioritize teachers,” Burton said. “Right now.”
Taylor Freeman contributed to this report.