INDIANAPOLIS — Every week when state health officials give their weekly COVID-19 press briefing, Keith Gambill makes sure to tune in.
As president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, Gambill said he was disappointed during last week’s press conference to hear the state was taking an age-based approach.
“That was the first that we learned of teachers not being included in any of the prioritization of a vaccine,” said Gambill. “Up to that time, we had always believed that we were in the 1B category.”
According to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when a vaccine is in limited supply, first doses should go to healthcare personnel (1A group). Following that group, the CDC recommends vaccinations go to frontline workers like firefighters, police and educators (1B group) prior to people aged 75 and older.
“We did not hear our name called in [last week’s press conference] at all, and it’s very disconcerting” said Gambill.
On January 13, state health officials announced those aged 70 and up can begin registering for vaccinations — news Gambill said he was not expecting.
“We’re not seeking to cut in line in font of folks,” Gambill said. “We understand our most vulnerable populations and our first responders absolutely should be at the front of the line. We’re trying to keep schools open as best we can, but we have to keep our educators and our students safe.”
Gambill said the pandemic has strained the education system, and a vaccine would help alleviate some of the stress.
“We have a limited number of folks who drive the buses or prepare meals or teach! And so when we don’t have enough folks to cover all that work, then we have to shift the way that the work is done,” explained Gambill.
Gambill said staffing shortages have caused individual school buildings to close, sometimes even entire districts. He said the constant transition from face-to-face to virtual learning is hard on students and staff.
According to the Indiana State Teachers Association, 86% of educators say their stress levels have somewhat or significantly deteriorated.
“We have students who have important needs and need to be with their educators,” Gambill said.
Governor Eric Holcomb said state health officials are working to get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible but will start with the most at-risk people.
“We are moving forward with addressing the most at-risk population in the state of Indiana and working back from that. We’re still going through 1A and 1B before going to 2,” said Gov. Holcomb.
“Just knowing where we are in line, I know, would do a world of good for our folks,” Gambill said.