Cincinnati teachers receiving vaccines as other districts wait

States such as Ohio are prioritizing school personnel, but many are not despite wanting them to return for in-person instruction.
By: | January 29, 2021
Cincinnati Superintendent Laura Mitchell receives her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo courtesy of Cincinnati Public Schools)

Teachers, administrators and staff in Cincinnati’s Public Schools have begun receiving the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines, good news for a district that is planning to have 35,000 students return in a hybrid model next week.

One of the first to get the initial dose from the city’s health department was Superintendent Laura Mitchell.

“As a large employer in the city, with 6,000 employees, this is a win-win for our students, staff, families and our community,” Mitchell said. “The more people who are vaccinated, the better. The vaccine is a critical piece of the puzzle.”

Cincinnati is one of several large districts in Ohio that was placed on Gov. Mike DeWine’s early list for the rollout of 91,000 vaccinations for school personnel. That includes some of the state’s bigger metro areas such as Columbus, Dayton, Akron and Youngstown. But it does not include Cleveland or Toledo and many other smaller cities and towns. Because there aren’t enough doses to go around – more than 330,000 school-based employees need to be vaccinated – districts will be added each week. That has caused some uneasiness as DeWine and others push for a March 1 return for all students.

Even if teachers receive the first dose of the vaccine by the end of February across Ohio, it will still take weeks to administer the second doses. The time between doses is 21 days for the Pfizer vaccine and 28 for the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines. That second dose is imperative because it protects individuals 95% of the time from getting COVID-19, according to the Food and Drug Administration. With only the first dose, that efficacy number according to Pfizer is just over 50%. The FDA has warned against trying to shorten those times.

So, Cincinnati has started its plan by offering Pfizer vaccine appointments first to those individuals who are in “specialized classrooms and youngest learners through Grade 3”. Covedale School kindergarten teacher Consuelo Esteves (above) was among those in the initial group. The school is not requiring faculty and staff to receive them but is encouraging it.

“I am honored to be one of the first teachers at CPS to get the vaccine,” Esteves said. “I have no hesitation with getting vaccinated because I know the vaccine is safe and effective.”

Getting the dose was front of mind for Mitchell as she tries to set the tone for her district.

“As a leader in the Cincinnati community, I cannot ask our staff to step forward and be vaccinated if I am not willing to do the same, especially knowing the hesitancy that some people feel about the vaccine. It was personally important for me to be here today to demonstrate my belief that this vaccine is not only safe, but is the way we move forward,” she said.

After the initial wave of instructors get vaccinated in Cincinnati, further teachers will follow, then staff and bus drivers.

Where others stand

Across the nation, the prioritizing and dispensing of COVID-19 vaccines for teachers and other school personnel has been mixed. Less than half of states have placed K-12 educators in the early tiers to receive them. A group of them that has in some capacity includes: Arkansas, California, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah.

Utah, in fact, put all K-12 personnel in its Phase 1A category, while others above mostly have them in the second category, Phase 1B.

One of the most highly publicized fights to get teachers and staff vaccinated is occurring in Illinois, especially in Chicago, where its teachers’ union is pressing for more than 142,000 employees to receive doses as soon as possible before they return in person. Teachers have been placed in Phase 1B and are eligible to receive doses, but getting appointments has been chaotic.

Schools are set to reopen Monday in the Windy City for grades K-8 but that may not happen. According to a report from WBEZ-TV, 85% of teachers were no shows on Wednesday when they were supposed to report to school for pre-K and special education students. Classes instead continued virtually. The city’s public health department has said teachers will not be moved up in line to get shots ahead of other high-priority groups such as seniors.

In some locations in Minnesota, the news is a bit better. According to the Star-Tribune, teachers in Minneapolis and St. Paul are starting to receive the Moderna vaccine at the Xcel Energy Center, home of the National Hockey League’s Minnesota Wild. There are still not enough doses to vaccinate all of the educators but enough that school district officials are confident those who head back for face-to-face instruction will have received their first shots.

In California, rollout of vaccines has begun slowly after counties got the green light from Gov. Gavin Newsom to place teachers in the Phase 1B category. Teachers in Long Beach started receiving them on Monday, but in Los Angeles the timetable is still murky. Superintendent Austin Beutner has said schools should not reopen until they are. The website reported that of the nine counties in the San Francisco Bay area, only Marin County had started teacher vaccinations.

In Boston, the battle continues to get school personnel early doses. Teachers are in the second tier of those eligible and on Thursday, the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers and the Boston Teachers Association called for them to be pushed up higher on the list. Those calls have also rang out from teacher advocates in states such as Florida and Georgia, where there is no currently no priority for them to be vaccinated in Phases 1A or 1B. In fact, a select group of teachers in small Elbert County, Ga., were given the vaccines by a medical provider there and that center was suspended by the state’s department of health for giving them priority.

In states such as Tennessee and Ohio, and especially now in metro areas such as Cincinnati where they are being dispensed, school leaders feel fortunate to have been prioritized by the state.

“The pandemic may not be over, but the arrival of the vaccine brings hope for our staff, our students, our neighborhoods and our community,” Mitchell said.