“As essential employees we need to be vaccinated,” Why teachers in Indiana need to wait longer for vaccine eligibility

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INDIANAPOLIS — During a CNN town hall in Milwaukee on Tuesday, President Joe Biden said he hopes to reopen schools, specifically grades K-8, five days a week by the end of April. In order to meet this goal, President Biden said he would emphasize getting vaccines to teachers.

“I think we should be vaccinating teachers. We should move them up in the hierarchy,” Biden said.

According to guidelines from the CDC, educators should be considered in the Phase 1b category. Indiana state health officials, however, are continuing to follow an age-based approach.

 “The strongest data that we have to support who should be prioritized is based on age,” said Dr. Brian Dixon, Director of Public Health Informatics at Regenstrief Institute.

Dr. Dixon said data from both the university-level and the K-12 system-level show that teachers are generally at the same level of risk as the population.

“So, they’re not at higher risk – they’re not necessarily at lower risk – but they’re at equal risk,” said Dr. Dixon. “And so that information is probably weighing on the minds of the advisory committee that’s making recommendations about who should be prioritized next.”

Dr. Dixon did, however, acknowledge that teachers do come into contact with multiple people outside their household and because of that he recommends prioritizing and vaccinating teachers when possible.

“We believe that as essential employees we need to be vaccinated… and we need to be vaccinated now,” said Keith Gambill, President of the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA).

Gambill said students and families need to get back to “as close to normal as possible” and one way to do that is by vaccinating our educators.

“We believe as [the state begins] to expand the age, that now is the right time to start bringing in employee groups alongside,” Gambill said.

Most recently, Hoosiers 65 and older are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine with plans to include those 50+ and people with certain co-morbidities next. Not specific mention has been made for when teachers and other essential workers would become eligible.

“In Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois — they have been able to begin vaccinating educators through following that CDC guidance,” Gambill said. “And that’s what we expect from Indiana.”

The Indiana State Department of Health said the ability to expand vaccine eligibility is limited by the lack of available vaccine on the national level.

In a statement, the department defended its age-based approach by saying in part:

“Our data show that the rate of COVID transmission within schools is very low… From the beginning, the priorities stated in our vaccine allocation plan were to save lives, reduce hospitalizations and protect vulnerable populations… We are taking an age-based approach to current expansion because age is the number one cause of hospitalizations and death due to COVID.”

Indiana State Department of Health

The state health department said Hoosiers age 60 and older account for 93% of the total COVID-19 deaths in the state.

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