Educators asking for higher vaccine priority

North Carolina is one of 26 states not yet prioritizing vaccines for teachers and one of just seven states not vaccinating any essential non-healthcare workers.
Published: Feb. 4, 2021 at 7:15 PM EST
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WITN) - North Carolina teachers feel like they’re being left behind in the state’s vaccine rollout.

This week, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) suggested districts offer some form of in-person learning. Teachers like Anne Hardinger, president of the Onslow County Association of Educators, fear that could be jumping the gun.

“There is a lot of anxiety for contracting the virus for educators,” said Hardinger. “They can’t guarantee our safety. That’s why we want to be vaccinated.”

North Carolina, though, is one of more than half of the states in the country that has not yet made vaccinating teachers a priority, and is one of seven that has not started vaccinating any non-healthcare essential workers.

Federal guidance, however, suggests including teachers in Phase 1B of the vaccine rollout. Frontline essential workers are in group three in North Carolina, just shy of getting the official green light from the state.

“There is increasing data to suggest schools can safely re-open,” said C.D.C. Director Rochelle Walensky. “That safe re-opening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to re-open safely.”

That would only be, Walensky said, if proper social distancing and mask-wearing requirements are followed. A task that has felt nearly impossible for educators like Hardinger.

“We do the best we can,” said Hardinger. “When you have 20 children in a classroom you’re not going to get six feet apart.”

The North Carolina Association of Educators held a Facebook live discussion on the topic Wednesday night.

“If everybody wants to prioritize schools going back in, then they need to prioritize educators getting that vaccine,” said Vice President Bryan Proffitt. “It is hard for educators to trust that those strategies are going to be re-enforced because everyday we go into classrooms where the heaters don’t work, where the windows are open.”

Gov. Cooper doubled-down Thursday during his press conference on his suggestions for some form of in-person learning, but raised concerns over a Republican version of a bill moving through the General Assembly that would require schools to have an in-person learning option. Cooper did not say, however, whether he would consider using his veto.

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