With Massachusetts expecting to see its supply of COVID-19 vaccine increase over the coming weeks, Senate President Karen Spilka on Tuesday said Gov. Charlie Baker must let teachers get vaccinated this month and should set aside a percentage of doses for teachers and school staff.
Spilka's call on the Baker administration to prioritize teacher vaccination comes a week after the Republican governor and Education Commissioner Jeff Riley detailed their intent to have all school districts bring elementary school students back to the classroom full-time by April.
The Senate's top Democrat said if that is the goal then the administration must provide cities and towns with the resources and support they need, including vaccines
"Among those resources, we need a vaccine program for teachers and staff that is aggressive, and we need it this month. As more vaccine doses become available to the state, I am calling on the Governor to designate a percentage of those doses to be administered to teachers and staff in their communities," Spilka said in a statement released by her office Tuesday afternoon.
The comments put Spilka on the same page as House Speaker Ron Mariano, who has already said teachers should be prioritized for vaccination, but did not provide any details for how that should be accomplished.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday challenged all states to give at least one dose to all teachers and school staff by the end of the month, and said he planned to use the federal pharmacy vaccine program to facilitate that efforts.
It's been a little more than two weeks since people 65 and older became eligible for the vaccine, and teachers are slated to be a part of the next group, which also includes other "essential workers." On Feb. 24, Baker said it would take about a month, barring an increase in vaccine supply, to work through the groups of people currently eligible to receive vaccines.
While competition for appointments has been fierce, Pfizer and Moderna are both expecting to ramp up production in March and the Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved a third vaccine - the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine - for use.
"A top priority for everyone in government, whether at the local, state or federal level, should be getting our students and teachers and staff back into the classroom safely. Getting students back into the classroom, where they learn best, should be a local decision which will depend upon a variety of factors," Spilka said.
The Ashland Democrat added, "If the Governor wants to mandate opening elementary schools across the Commonwealth to in-person learning by April 1st, the Administration must have an equitable plan that gives communities the necessary support and resources to do that."
A spokesman for Baker said the governor continues to believe learning in a classroom poses a "very low risk" for COVID-19 transmission when proper safety protocols are followed, and noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said vaccines should not be considered a condition for reopening schools.
"The state's supply of vaccines from the federal government remains constrained, with the demand from providers exceeding four times the available supply that Massachusetts is allocated on a weekly basis," said spokesman Terry MacCormack.