The limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines is causing tension as states roll out plans for who should get shots first, and school advocates in Indiana are pressing for more access for teachers.
The Indiana Coalition For Public Education and state's largest teachers union are urging Gov. Eric Holcomb and State Health Commissioner Kris Box to revise the state's plan and prioritize educators in earlier phases of vaccine rollout.
In a letter sent to Holcomb and Box this week, ICPE urged them to adopt the same guidelines shared from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that prioritize educators alongside first responders. It's a change the Indiana State Teachers Association has also called on them to make.
Keri Miksza chairs the Indiana Coalition for Public Education in Monroe County, and says such a change would help more children return to school.
"We should be doing as much as we can to try to keep these schools open and safe," she said.
Schools have had to adjust their operating plans on the fly with persisting staffing challenges that have forced many to bounce back and forth between online and in-person learning. In its letter, ICPE points out unpredictable school schedules that have limited the ability for some Hoosiers to work.
Thomas Duszynski is the director of epidemiology education at the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health. He says he understands the urgency and pressure people are feeling to get the vaccine, but like all things planned during the pandemic, vaccine rollout schedules and strategies are subject to change.
"As we learn more about distribution, as we have more about vaccine availability, that plan can be sped up," he said.
In the meantime, he says it's vital for people to continue wearing masks, practicing good hygiene and social distancing.
So far, Indiana's first responders and law enforcement – including police who work in schools – have been eligible to sign up for the vaccine. Indiana currently also allows Hoosiers older than 70 and health workers to sign up for the vaccine.
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At a press conference Wednesday, health officials said they aren't sure when the next phase of vaccine rollout will begin, but it will include Hoosiers 65 and older, following previously discussed plans to prioritize vaccine eligibility by age. Officials said they are trying to avoid promising vaccines when demand is far outpacing supply.
In Michigan, teachers are already allowed to sign up for their shot, but the state is struggling to meet demand. Meanwhile, Ohio teachers are expected to become eligible for vaccines starting Feb. 1, and the governor in Illinois has recently said teachers are expected to be able to sign up in the next few weeks.