- School administrators are an "essential component" to school staff accessing vaccinations during and after the month of March, said Kathleen Ethier, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Adolescent and School Health in the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, in a webinar Monday.
- "We feel a certain sense of urgency at this point. We want to get the word out to as many local districts as we possibly can," Ethier said. She said administrators should communicate to the entire school staff — not just teachers — about why and where to get vaccinated.
- She also said administrators should help build confidence in the vaccines, adding that some of the data the agency has seen indicates a higher portion of teachers and educators may be ready to be vaccinated, while nonclassroom school staff may be more hesitant.
President Joe Biden issued a directive on March 2 telling states to expand vaccine eligibility to teachers, staff and child care workers, and dedicating all unclaimed vaccination appointments in The Retail Pharmacy Program for those groups until the end of the month. The program is a collaboration between the federal government and states to allow retail pharmacy locations to provide COVID-19 vaccines.
Currently, all but five states have not completely expanded eligibility, Ethier said. Florida, West Virginia and Montana, for example, still maintain age limitations for school staff, teachers and child care workers. North Dakota's eligibility is limited to certain counties, meaning its prioritization of school staff and child care workers is not statewide. Utah, meanwhile, has prioritized teachers and school staff but not child care workers, she said.
Even prior to the program, national association data showed approximately 49% of educators had already been vaccinated, Ethier said. "But we know that’s a much lower percentage when taking into consideration broader school staff."
While states' eligibility for school staff will continue as-is after March, pharmacies will no longer dedicate unclaimed vaccination appointments to school staff starting in April. With just over a week left in the month, Ethier stressed to administrators their role in clearing up misunderstandings and building vaccine confidence among staff.
"There's a little bit of confusion (within the education community)," said Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director of policy and advocacy for AASA, The School Superintendents Association, during the webinar. Ethier identified several areas of confusion, including:
- Who is eligible, where they can go and how to get access. While teachers often know vaccines are available to them, administrators should educate broader staff to let them know they are eligible as well.
- Whether recipients must pay for the vaccine. This is a concern primarily among broader school staff, but Ethier said these vaccines are free with the caveat there may be a small administrative fee depending on where you get the vaccine.
- Safety and effectiveness. Administrators can boost vaccine confidence by having people with expertise speak transparently, clearly and accurately about the safety, efficacy and urgency of the COVID-19 vaccines to build trust, Ethier said, adding they should specify what vaccines will do for school staff. She also suggested encouraging staff to speak out on social media, during meetings and on other platforms as they get vaccinated.
"We're doing this for our schools, and for the other staff in our schools, and for the kids in our schools," Ethier said. "So taking those messages back and finding both those trusted experts and trusted peers, I think, are the two keys."
In communicating vaccine safety, administrators can make the case that the three vaccines currently approved for use in the U.S. are "almost identical."
"At this point, given supply issues, the most important thing is to get vaccinated," she said. "And if you can talk to your staff in those terms, ... that is going to get the most people vaccinated as quickly as possible."