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Washington teachers push for higher vaccine priority as districts plan return to classrooms

Teachers in Washington are concerned about local districts pushing to reopen in-person classrooms before all of them are eligible for the vaccine.

SEATTLE — If the state’s plan stays as it is, many teachers won’t have access to the COVID-19 vaccine until April.

But the Washington Education Association (WEA) is fighting to move teachers up in priority before districts look at reopening schools.

"Educators should be prioritized as soon as possible,” said WEA President Larry Delaney.

Teachers age 50 and older are eligible for shots in February and younger teachers can get them April, according to the state's plan.

But some school districts are starting the return to in-person learning before all teachers have been given access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

"One of the many keys to being able to return to in-person teaching and learning as safely as possible is access to the vaccine,” Delaney said.

Teachers 50 and over are part of phase B2, along with some other front-line workers like grocery store employees and law enforcement. The state predicts phase B2 will have access to the vaccine sometime in February.

But educators younger than 50 are part of phase B4, which means they aren’t expected to have access until April.

The Washington Education Association told KING 5 that 61% of its members are age 50 and younger.

“There shouldn’t be a break between educators — and frankly, any other front-line workers — who are 50 and over versus 50 and under,” Delaney said. “It’s certainly problematic. I think this would be much more streamlined and this also weighed in on our decision as an organization to advocate that all educators be vaccinated or have access to the vaccine as soon as possible.”

But even when teachers can get the vaccine WEA argues there’s more to consider before all schools return to session.

“We know that there are many L & I requirements that also have to be in place. We’ve got more information coming in on new variants of the virus,” Delaney said.

“So, the vaccine in one more layer that will allow us open as safely as possible but it’s certainly not a catch-all and a guarantee that schools can and should open,” he said.  

And while they push to get teachers higher on the vaccine priority list, they are encouraging districts to wait until educators have access to the vaccine before returning to in-person learning.

“We’ve been in this COVID world for the last 10 months and it’s going to take another few weeks to be able to ensure that educators are vaccinated. We certainly would encourage local districts who are making these decisions to wait that additional three weeks, or whatever that time may be,” Delaney said.