By JULIET CURTIS
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently declared all Pre-K and K-12 staff members nationwide eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination as of March 2nd. Such staff members and childcare workers were additionally given special priority by pharmacies within the Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s Federal Retail Pharmacy Program during the month of March. With this new teacher eligibility also came the contrast in opinions between those who are eager for vaccinations and those who have vaccine hesitancy, though many UHS staff members are part of the former.
“Actually, no, I did not have any hesitations about receiving the vaccine,” English teacher Mr. James Garcia said. “I have been so excited to see this pandemic come to an end that I was nothing but ecstatic to be able to get the vaccine.”
The addition of teachers as a group eligible for the vaccine has put further strain on the already high demand for vaccinations. In response, many new pop-up vaccination locations have been created specifically for teachers in order to pursue their prioritization, and the Orange County Department of Education has even partnered with school districts to establish yet another vaccination site for teachers.
“Even though we are allowed [vaccinations], it has been a challenge to get an appointment…with the demand being high and the supply low,” Vice Principal Mr. Matthew Pate said.
While vaccine eligibility is the cause of many teachers’ celebrations, obtaining vaccinations has been long-awaited by the majority of UHS teachers since the start of the school year.
“It would have been awesome to have the vaccine before returning back to work in person, and I certainly considered IVA because of the absence of a vaccine and testing protocols but decided against it,” Mr. Garcia said. “The existence of an effective vaccine when we started in-person learning would have drastically changed the makeup and look of the in person staffing and student body.”
While head UHS staff members are very excited and encouraged by this new vaccine eligibility, vaccinations are not required for teachers to continue working, nor are schools’ executive administrations across the country managing teacher vaccinations. Rather, the decision of whether or not to get vaccinated remains up to the teachers themselves.
“[UHS administration] does not keep track of which teachers get a vaccination…but the district has helped facilitate [vaccine management] through an app called Othena, if one wants to use that app,” Mr. Pate said.
The lack of a tracking system for teacher vaccinations and the lack of their requirement for the reopening of schools has frustrated Americans and sparked health concerns. However, vaccinations ultimately still remain optional and remain teachers’ own responsibilities.
“The school obviously wants all the teachers to be safe,” school board member Cyril Yu said. “But at the end of the day, vaccinations are entirely up to the teachers.”