Alabama teachers may have to wait longer for COVID-19 vaccine

Updated 10:25 AM; Today 9:06 AM

Alabama State Superintendent Eric Mackey speaks to press during a regular meeting of the state Board of Education Thursday, January 4, 2021, in Montgomery.
Alabama State Superintendent Eric Mackey speaks to press during a regular meeting of the state Board of Education Thursday, January 4, 2021, in Montgomery.

By Trisha Powell Crain |

Alabama teachers have been essentially bumped down the priority list to get the COVID-19 vaccine, State Superintendent Eric Mackey told the state board of education during Thursday’s work session in Montgomery.

Alabama considers teachers and schools support staff to be part of phase 1b to be vaccinated, behind frontline health care workers and residents of long-term care homes. But the state now plans to prioritize other essential workers in 1b, such as firefighters and police officers, and those who are age 75 years old and older, before giving teachers their shots, he said.

“Teachers are still considered to be in 1b, but it’s like they’re in 1b-slash-a,” Mackey said.

Moderna COVID vaccine

READ MORE: How to get a COVID-19 vaccine in Alabama, county by county

These hospitals and county health departments will have vaccines available next week for first responders and those 75 and older.

There has been talk in other states about moving teachers farther down the list, but he said he has been pushing hard to keep teachers in 1b. The waitlist also will likely lengthen if Alabama opens the vaccine up to those 65 years old and older, as recently recommended by federal officials.

Under the state Department of Public Health’s current plan, teachers likely will begin to get their first shots in February or early March, according to Mackey. Potential delays and the need for everyone to get a second dose, however, means school staff may not be fully vaccinated and receive immunity before the end of the current school year.

The slow rollout might affect plans for summer school, too, Mackey said.

University of Alabama COVID vaccine

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All COVID vaccination appointments through county health departments are full, ADPH said.

Mackey told state board members he has been told that Alabama is getting 50,000 doses of the vaccine a week. With two doses needed for roughly 200,000 public school employees statewide, he said he understands why it’s taking a while to get shots in teacher’s arms, but is concerned delays could further impact learning.

“Our whole social and economic structure is built around kids going to school,” Mackey said. “[Schools] are one of the largest employers in the state. In many counties, we are the largest employer.”

Children need to be back in school full-time, he said, and the only way to do that is to get teachers vaccinated as soon as possible.

“We don’t need our teachers to be pushed any further back [down the vaccine priority list],” he said.

Teachers in Tallapoosa and Marion counties already are being vaccinated, he said, after hospitals there offered unused vaccine doses. But only about 50% of those school employees are taking the offered doses, which worries Mackey.

“All the science says you have to have 70 to 90% for immunity protection,” he said. “If we were to end up in a situation where only 50% of people get vaccinated, the pandemic won’t end. It’ll get better, but it will be this prolonged pandemic instead of ending.”

“I deeply philosophically believe in the power of education and public schools,” Mackey said. “I think we have to be the leaders. We have to show people that the logic and the science and the caring for one another, the uplifting of our democracy as a whole, that that is our responsibility. So we’ve got to be the leaders and show the way.”

Mackey said he plans to get the vaccine but not before it is widely available to teachers.

The state department will not make the shots mandatory for public school employees, he said, but local school boards could choose to do so. He said he has not heard of any school boards planning to make the vaccine a requirement for employment.

Mackey said any eventual decision about whether to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for school attendance would be made by public health officials, and will likely not be considered until the vaccine receives full approval from the Food and Drug Administration.