Updated at 7:30 p.m., March 3, 2021, to include comment by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins
All Texas teachers, school employees and child care workers are now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines thanks to a shift in federal pharmacy policy.
On Wednesday, Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, sent a letter to vaccine providers across the state, informing them that a federal directive immediately expands vaccine eligibility to include “those who work in pre-primary, primary, 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 care providers, including center-based 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 to do so.
“My challenge is this: We want every educator, school staff member, child care worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March,” Biden said Tuesday at a White House news conference.
Teacher vaccinations are a key pillar in Biden’s push to reopen schools within his first 100 days in office.
The change also comes a day after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott rescinded his statewide mask mandate effective March 10, doing so without guidance on what public schools should do in its absence.
The Texas Education Agency issued updated health guidelines for public schools on Wednesday that noted current protocols — including masks — would remain in place unless a local school board votes to lift such requirements.
Pharmacy giant CVS Health changed its policy Wednesday to make elementary and secondary educators and staff, as well as child care workers, eligible to receive a vaccine.
In a statement, the company said that the move “aligned with updated Federal Retail Pharmacy Program guidelines” and would happen in all 17 states — including Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana — where CVS currently offers COVID-19 vaccines.
Vaccines will be made available for educators by appointment only at the approximately 100 select CVS pharmacies across Texas that are administering the shots. Teachers can sign up through CVS.com or its CVS Pharmacy app, and those without online or mobile access can call the company’s customer service line: (800) 746-7287.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins took to social media Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, posting a story on Biden’s decision and promising that the first group of teachers would receive their shots by next week — tagging Dallas, Garland, Richardson and Irving ISDs in his posts.
On Wednesday, Jenkins explained that those shots would be through the expansion of the federal program that directly sends doses to pharmacies. Vaccines allocated to federal and county-approved sites will likely be hard to come by, he said.
There’s a backlog of about 750,000 people on Dallas County’s waiting list, and teachers would add to that total, Jenkins said. He added that it’s 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 in an ongoing spat about the county’s vaccine allocation, which has been proportionally cut by the state since the federal government opened a site in Fair Park targeting residents in the county’s poorest and underserved areas.
“For teachers, it’s going to be: ‘Sign up in as many places as you’re willing to drive,’” Jenkins said. “And that’s probably only going to stop when the state stops diverting vaccines from Dallas and Tarrant County.”
Dallas ISD spokeswoman Robyn Harris said the district was still “gathering information” on what the two changes might mean for its 20,000 employees.
Before the switch, Texas had prioritized vaccinations for front-line medical workers, nursing home residents, those 65 and older, and those 16 and older with at least one chronic medical condition that put them at a higher risk of severe illness from the coronavirus.
While thousands of teachers and child care providers were inoculated under those guidelines, thousands more were not. Texas public school districts alone have 750,000 employees, including 365,000 teachers.
Texas was among those that did not prioritize teachers despite offering in-person learning across the state.
Rena Honea, president of Dallas’ teacher union, Alliance AFT, said that she was “absolutely ecstatic” about the announcement, and that educators and support staff were “finally being recognized” for their important roles during the pandemic.
“Those who have been called out to work on the front lines have needed that protection, but to this point, unless they fell into one of those existing groups, they haven’t been able to get it,” Honea said. “This gets us back to where we needed to be all along.”
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