‘People have been anxious to get the vaccine’: Fall River teachers relieved to be added to eligibility list
Local educators breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday as the state announced many of them will become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine next week.
“I’m definitely going to be hitting refresh at midnight to try and get an appointment,” said Robert Gorman, a math teacher at B.M.C. Durfee High School.
Governor Charlie Baker announced that K-12 teachers, school staff, and childcare workers will become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine from state vaccination sites on March 11. They can start signing up for appointments next Thursday, March 10. The state releases new appointments each Thursday.
Kathy St. Laurent, principal at Bishop Connolly High School, said teachers have been working especially hard this year. While students at her school are alternating weeks of remote and in-person learning, teachers are in classrooms every day.
“People have been anxious to get the vaccine. I think it will definitely provide a level of comfort and assurance so everyone will feel protected,” she said.
Suzanne Raposo, a teacher at Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School, said she was especially happy to hear the news because it will bring some peace of mind to her colleagues who have family members who are immunocompromised.
“I’m really happy for them,” she said.
And, she said, teachers being vaccinated will hopefully allow a smoother transition as schools begin to bring more students back for in-person learning. The state announced last week it will instruct school districts to phase out remote and hybrid learning for at least their youngest students beginning in April.
Gorman said he still has some concerns about bringing students back for more in-person learning. It’s still not clear the extent to which unvaccinated students can pass the virus amongst themselves. And, while the vaccine significantly reduces the chance of someone developing severe symptoms of the virus, the science is not settled on whether a vaccinated person could contract that virus and transmit it to others while remaining asymptomatic, he pointed out. Still, the inclusion of teachers on the eligibility list is overall positive news, he said.
“It reduces the number of questions I have,” he said. “I would definitely feel safer with having kids in the classrooms.”
Baker said the decision to open the door for educators being vaccinated was made “to eliminate confusion between federal eligibility guidelines and state eligibility guidelines.” Earlier this week, President Joe Biden said states should prioritize educators for vaccination and aim to have every teacher, school staff member and child care worker receive at least one vaccine dose by the end of March.
Also on Wednesday, CVS began listing preschool through 12th grade teachers and staff and daycare workers as eligible to sign up for vaccine appointments at their locations, which are separate from state-run vaccination sites and include pharmacies in Fall River, New Bedford and Taunton. However, as of Wednesday afternoon there were no open appointments at any CVS in the state.
While educators will be allowed to sign up for vaccine appointments, the governor cautioned the state will likely not see an increase to its number of available doses until the end of the month. Massachusetts currently receives about 150,000 first doses each week from the federal government, Baker said. The Biden administration has informed state leaders they shouldn’t expect to receive large shipments of the newly-approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine for several more weeks.
About 1 million people became eligible for the vaccine when the state began allowing those aged 65 to 74 and those with multiple complicating health factors to sign up, Baker said. So far, the state has received enough vaccines to dose about one third of them. Adding educators to the mix means an additional 400,000 people will be allowed to make appointments.
Certain days at the state’s mass vaccination sites will be reserved for educators only, Baker said.
“We’re not getting new doses. I can’t make that clear enough,” he said.