One of the only options for Indiana educators who otherwise aren't eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine has been shut down as the state enforces previously unknown rules on standby list eligibility.
Last weekend, reports of teachers being taken off waitlists exploded on social media.
The state is prioritizing vaccine appointments by age, in addition to providing vaccines to frontline workers in law enforcement and health care. That approach prompted teachers and other Hoosiers throughout the state to begin signing up for vaccine waitlists to receive unused doses and help avoid waste.
Teacher Shannon Brown called three different pharmacies to register for a standby list a little over a week ago, but last weekend she got calls saying she was taken off.
"A second pharmacy called me and said that they were not prioritizing teachers, according to the state's orders and therefore I was not on the list," she said.
A recent letter from Indiana's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver to vaccine distributors says people who aren't eligible for the vaccine and don't have a qualifying medical condition should not be included on waiting lists. Officials say vaccine distributors who violate state eligibility requirements may not be sent additional first doses of the vaccine, but will still receive doses to keep second-dose appointments.
Brown and other teachers previously signing up for waitlists say phone calls made to pharmacies Saturday indicated they began cracking down on standby lists per directives from "higher ups" that morning.
The sudden enforcement of waitlist eligibility comes after several teachers and school leaders pointed to standby or waiting lists as their only option to get the vaccine into the arms of school staff – with some school leaders even working with local health departments to do so – as vaccine eligibility remains limited.
Right now, the only school staff eligible for vaccines are school police officers and staff with qualified health care roles.
The state's teachers unions, some elected officials, and the Indiana Coalition for Public Education are among those calling on the state to comply more closely with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that includes teachers in the "frontline essential workers" vaccine distribution plan alongside law enforcement.
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High school history teacher Marissa Tanner received her dose just before some pharmacies began booting teachers and others off their waitlists over the weekend.
She and other educators said pushing for schools to reopen and not prioritizing teacher vaccines is frustrating. Tanner said she was not told about any waitlist requirements that are now being enforced.
"I just don't feel like the state cares. I just don't feel like Governor Holcomb is being real with us," she said.
Indiana still has no timeline for vaccinating teachers. Meanwhile, surrounding states have already started vaccinating educators, with Kentucky projected to be the first state in the country to finish vaccinating its teachers.