Teachers moved to the priority list for COVID-19 vaccine
Steadfast advocacy and unyielding pressure from educators, teacher unions, and community supporters have achieved what they demanded from the state from the very beginning, to have educators placed on the priority list for vaccinations for COVID-19 before directing them to return to in-person teaching.
When vaccines for COVID-19 were announced late last year, educators expected to be among the early groups to receive vaccinations because of their important position of educating our children, but they weren’t. Who should receive the first vaccinations in Georgia became a polarizing topic between critics who said teachers should have been prioritized and others who said the elderly needed to be the state’s focus.
Following several teacher deaths, including those right here in South Cobb, and weeks of protest by teachers and their supporters, Gov. Brian Kemp changed course on this issue and added Pre-K through 12th-grade educators and staff to the list of groups eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations, effective March 8. This list will include both public and private schools as well as those who work for Georgia’s Department of Early Care and Learning. Georgia joins at least 31 other states that have made some or all teachers eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
At a press conference this week, Kemp avoided the politics of the issue and cited his concern for parents and the need to get students back in the classroom in his decision. “I believe it is vitally important for more Georgians to return to normal. For too many parents, this is simply impossible to do while your child is home learning through a screen. Virtually schooling is leaving too many children behind and parents are literally at wit’s end. They are also very exhausted. We must have every student back in the classroom five days a week statewide,” said Kemp. “But moving forward, we cannot delay full in-person learning any longer. Our children cannot afford to wait until fall. The costs are simply too high,” Kemp said. “Georgians deserve to return to normal as soon as possible and that will not happen without schoolhouse doors open for face-to-face instruction each and every day.”
Kemp’s about face on teachers receiving the vaccine comes a few short weeks after he declined efforts by Atlanta Public Schools to have teachers added to the eligibility list. As reports surfaced that teachers were traveling out of state for COVID-19 vaccines from neighboring states, Gov. Kemp continued to face mounting pressure to add teachers to the list.
With a politically charged season anticipated in 2022 and the certainty of a rematch with Stacey Abrams looming in the background, some wonder if Gov. Kemp may be playing a little politics as he focuses on the ever important political block called teachers, suggesting he may be making moves now to keep himself in their good graces come November 2022. In addition to placing them on the vaccine list, Gov. Kemp added teachers to the budget for a one-time $1,000 bonus – he would later add state workers making under $80,000 to this group. Characterizing the bonus and change of heart on the vaccination as political moves may be the position some take, while others say having teachers on the list as well as awarding them a bonus were long overdue. Either way, teachers are elated as they relish their success on this important issue that had “life and death” implications for educators. All agree that moving educators up on the priority list should help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and prevent other teachers from losing their lives to the virus.
Going forward, issues for educators will be a greater access to supplies by the state and finding appointments as the demand continues to outweigh the state’s supply. “Again, I want to reiterate there will be more demand for the vaccine than the state has supply,” Kemp said. “With the expanded criteria we are announcing today, I continue to ask Georgians for their patience.”
Following Gov. Kemp’s press conference on Thursday, both Marietta City Schools and Cobb County Schools made announcements to their employees on their plans to roll out vaccinations as well as directions on setting up appointments – with a focus on full time and part time employees first.
Others in the community who are eligible for the vaccine can go to myvaccinegeorgia.com to register for an appointment.