Texas lecturers, baby care employees now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine after being added to federal precedence

Updated March 3, 2021 at 7:30 p.m. to include a comment from Judge Clay Jenkins of Dallas County

All Texan teachers, school employees and childcare workers can now receive COVID-19 vaccines thanks to a change in federal pharmacy policy.

On Wednesday, Dr. John Hellerstedt, Texas Department of Health commissioner, wrote to vaccine providers across the state telling them that federal policy immediately extends vaccination eligibility to “those who work in preschool and elementary school” and secondary schools as well as Head Start and Early Head Start programs (including teachers, staff and bus drivers) and those who work as or for licensed child carers, including center and family care providers. “

The policy change came a day after President Joe Biden urged states to prioritize teachers on vaccination lists using federal pharmacy guidelines.

“My challenge is: We want every educator, school worker and childcare worker to receive at least one shot by the end of March,” Biden said at a press conference in the White House on Tuesday.

Vaccinations for teachers are an important pillar in Biden’s drive to reopen schools within his first 100 days in office.

The change also comes a day after Texas Governor Greg Abbott lifted his statewide mask mandate effective March 10, with no guidance on what public schools should do in absentia.

The Texas Education Agency on Wednesday issued updated public school health guidelines that stated that the current protocols – including masks – would remain in place unless a local school board votes to lift those requirements.

Governor Greg Abbott announced the end of the state's mask mandate at a press conference on Tuesday.  It is unclear how his announcement will affect students.

Pharmacy giant CVS Health on Wednesday changed its guidelines to qualify elementary and secondary school teachers and staff, as well as childcare workers, to receive a vaccine.

In a statement, the company said the move “is in line with updated guidelines from the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program,” and would take place in all 17 states – including Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana – that have CVS currently receiving COVID-19 vaccines offers.

Vaccines will only be made available to educators by appointment at the approximately 100 selected CVS pharmacies across Texas that administer the recordings. Teachers can sign up through CVS.com or the CVS Pharmacy app, and teachers without online or mobile access can call the company’s customer service number: (800) 746-7287.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins went on social media Tuesday night and Wednesday morning to share a story about Biden’s decision and to promise that the first group of teachers would get their recordings by next week – by asking Dallas, Garland, Richardson and Irving ISDs tagged in his posts.

On Wednesday, Jenkins stated that these recordings would come through the expansion of the federal program that sends cans direct to pharmacies. Vaccines approved by federal and county authorities will likely be hard to come by, he said.

There’s about 750,000 people behind on the Dallas County’s waiting list, and teachers would raise that number, Jenkins said. He added it was unclear whether the federal government’s Fair Park location would expand its mission to include teachers under Biden’s new guidance.

Jenkins and state officials are constantly arguing over the county’s vaccine allocation, which has been proportionally cut by the state since the federal government opened a lot in Fair Park aimed at residents of the county’s poorest and underserved areas.

“For teachers, it will be ‘sign up in as many places as you want to drive,'” Jenkins said. “And that probably won’t stop until the state stops diverting vaccines from Dallas and Tarrant Counties.”

Dallas ITS spokeswoman Robyn Harris said the district is still gathering information on what the two changes could mean for its 20,000 employees.

Prior to the move, Texas had prioritized vaccinations for frontline healthcare professionals, nursing home residents, people 65 years and older, and people 16 and older with at least one chronic condition, putting them at higher risk of developing serious illness from the coronavirus.

While thousands of teachers and childcare workers were vaccinated under these guidelines, thousands were not. The Texas public school districts alone have 750,000 employees, including 365,000 teachers.

Texas was among those who did not give teachers a priority, even though they offered face-to-face learning across the state.

Rena Honea, president of the Dallas Teachers Union, Alliance AFT, said she was “absolutely thrilled” with the announcement and that educators and support staff would “finally be recognized for their important roles during the pandemic.”

“Those who were told to work on the front lines needed this protection, but until that point they couldn’t get it unless they fell into one of those existing groups,” Honea said. “This brings us back to where we had to be all along.”

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The DMN Education Lab deepens reporting and discussion on pressing educational issues that are critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative supported by the Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, the Communities Foundation of Texas, the Dallas Foundation, the Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, the Meadows Foundation, and the Solutions Journalism Network from Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retain full editorial control over the Education Lab’s journalism.

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