Missouri educators wait for vaccine; many work to move them up on priority list

Governor opens up last part of Phase 1B due to increased vaccination supplies



LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 17: Pacoima Middle School teacher Abigail Abbott, 65, gets her COVID-19 vaccination from Nurse Practitioner Jiyoun Cho, left, as Los Angeles Unified employees received their first dose of the vaccine on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021 in Los Angeles. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times/TNS).

Vijay Viswanathan, Sports Editor

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the world by storm. The United States has been hit especially hard. 

However, COVID-19 vaccines are offering some home. Currently two vaccines, one made by drug company Bio-N-Tech (distributed by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer) and the other made by vaccine company Moderna are being administered. Pharmaceutical giant Johnson and Johnson’s one-dose vaccine is expected to receive approval this week.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has released a vaccination program that involves phases of people to be vaccinated. However, the CDC has left the pace of the vaccination programs up to the states. Missouri is currently operating Phase 1A, which means vaccinations are only currently available to  healthcare workers and people in care facilities. 

However, Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons announced on Feb. 25, that Phase 1B, Tier 3, which includes school employees will begin on March 15. People eligible for the vaccine under Phase 1B, Tier 3, or any other Missouri resident will be able to register for the vaccine on a website run by the State of Missouri. 

Amy Wehr is the director of health and wellness services for Rockwood. 

“[The timeline for teachers to receive the vaccine] is dependent upon the supply [of the vaccine] flowing into the state. I’ve not heard anything official about an update to the timeline. We do have a site with all of this information for staff on One Rockwood (our intranet site) and it was featured in an email to all staff on Feb. 1,” Wehr said. 

School nurses could be given permission to administer the vaccine to school employees. 

“That is our ultimate goal. We anticipate that the J&J [Johnson and Johnson] vaccine will come along in early March. We’re going to want people who can vaccinate others to do so, meaning everyone with a license to do so [vaccinate others],” Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) said in an online webinar. 

As of Feb. 8, some other states do allow teachers to receive the vaccine. Some states that border Missouri are included, such as Illinois which is also in Phase 1B, but not using the tier system.  Many teachers are driving to Illinois to get vaccinated at places like Walgreens which are regulated under federal vaccination programs.

There has been a big push by Missouri educators to get that group vaccinated sooner. 

In a letter sent to Williams from four former Missouri Teachers of the Year, DHSS was urged to move school employees into an earlier phase due to the fact that most schools in Missouri are open to in-person learning. However, the DHSS decided not to push them into a higher priority group. 

“If teachers had a similar risk [with COVID-19] like people with heart disease and cancer, then they would be [already receiving the vaccine]. That is our north star. They [teachers] in other states are categorized differently, and I respect that. Our north star is the biological nature of the virus, and who is most likely to make sick. That’s why, speaking for Missouri, we are doing what we’re doing,” Williams said in a online webinar on Feb. 3. 

Darion Cockrell is a physical education teacher at Crestwood Elementary, part of the Lindbergh School District. He is also the 2021 Missouri Teacher of the Year. 

“Many of us teachers have been in-person since August. If the state expects us here for our kids during a pandemic, then they need to be responsible and provide us with the best protection possible. That protection is the vaccine. In order for us to do our job comfortably and confidently, then we need to be vaccinated,” Cockrell said. 

Cockrell also wants to assure teachers that may be skeptical of the vaccine that it is safe and effective. 

“We have to trust the research and the people who have already received the vaccine. My wife is a nurse practitioner and had her shots completed back in early January. I had COVID and she was around me and was never exposed. She was tested during my quarantine and it came back negative. That proves that FOR HER it worked. I’m confirmed that this will be the same for most people if not everyone getting the vaccine. Numbers lowering and less people getting sick we prove how great this vaccine will be for the world. But we have to make it available to everyone ASAP,” Cockrell said. 

Language Arts teacher Jeffery Landow, who has a high-risk medical condition,  has received the first dose of the vaccine and will be receiving the second dose of the vaccine soon. He agrees with Cockrell that school employees should be moved to a higher vaccine priority group.

“I do believe that teachers should be moved up in the priority list. Pretty much everyone wants schools back open, full-time, in-person, five days a week- the vast majority of teachers want this too! The quickest and safest way to accomplish that goal, however, is to vaccinate teachers,” Landow said.

Spanish teacher Michaela Rogan shares a similar sentiment with Landow.

“As much as it would have been nice to receive the vaccine sooner, I am just staying patient and just happy to be able to [get the vaccine] in March,” Rogan said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAD) hopes that the country will be able to give people in all phases the vaccine by April.