Indiana teachers frustrated over longer wait for COVID-19 vaccine

As teachers in some other states line up for the COVID-19 vaccine, Indiana educators wonder when their turn will come.

It’s unclear when Indiana teachers will be eligible for the vaccine, but they will likely have to wait several weeks until Hoosiers age 60 and older and people with medical conditions receive their shots—putting them further back in line than they hoped to be.

“We are told that we are essential and important, and yet we are not on any list. We aren’t told what our plans are,” said Franklin Township elementary school teacher Sheila Sego.

Early on, Indiana health officials said teachers and other essential workers could be eligible for the vaccine after health care workers and nursing home residents. That would have been in line with federal recommendations that consider teachers to be “frontline essential workers.”

But when the state launched its vaccination plan last week, health officials decided to use Indiana’s limited doses to first inoculate those at highest risk of hospitalization or death due to COVID-19.

“Our goal is to reduce deaths and hospitalizations, and that makes this the right approach,” state health commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said Wednesday. “Our system is working, and we are going to stick with it.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb said the strategy for prioritizing the most at-risk people for the vaccine “hasn’t changed.” When the vaccine could become more widely available depends heavily on how many doses the state receives each week. The state does not have enough vaccines for everyone who wants it, but state health officials said they are working to expand efforts as quickly as possible.

About 220,000 Hoosiers have received the first dose of the COVID-19, health officials said. Indiana officials haven’t outlined plans beyond vaccinating older Hoosiers, which could take until February depending on vaccine availability and demand. Last week, health officials said the state could move next to those with medical conditions that put them at higher risk.

The Indiana State Teachers Association called last week for the state to prioritize teachers for the vaccine in order to keep schools open as coronavirus case numbers remain high. The state pushed to open schools for in-person learning at the beginning of the year, but many schools have dealt with periodic closures due to high community spread, outbreaks or widespread exposure to positive cases in schools, and staffing shortages while teachers are sick or quarantined.

“For months, teachers have put their lives at risk to ensure Hoosier children receive a quality education during the pandemic—all while being told they would be prioritized when the moment came for a vaccine,” ISTA President Keith Gambill said in a statement.

To reopen classrooms, many schools have required students and teachers to wear masks, limited visitors, spaced desks apart, and divided students into shifts to reduce the number of people in classrooms.

Sego points out that most teachers don’t have the option of working from home, and despite the precautions, many often spend hours each day in groups of 25 to 35 students. Social distancing isn’t always possible, and students don’t always wear their masks properly.

The vaccine would “give some peace of mind that they are safe at their place of employment,” Sego said. Sego had COVID-19 in the fall but does not know where she contracted the virus.

Indiana schools have reported more than 30,000 COVID-19 cases among students, teachers, and staff since the start of the school year, though the data is likely incomplete because not all schools are contributing numbers and cases can be difficult to report.

Some Indiana teachers in Vincennes and Evansville received the vaccine early, jumping to claim open appointments or leftover doses.

It’s not immediately clear how vaccines could change school policies on quarantining or other precautions.

Indianapolis Public Schools teacher Nathan Sopke said he’s frustrated that local and state health officials aren’t saying when teachers could be vaccinated.

“There’s not an excuse for this,” he said. “It just shows the lack of compassion toward educators.”

Sopke said he would get the vaccine as soon as it’s available. He’s seen how serious the disease can be after having COVID-19 and losing his dad to complications related to the coronavirus.

Teachers have worked to protect students’ health and their own while adapting to rapid changes in both in-person and remote instruction, Sopke said. It’s critical to get all students safely back into classrooms— especially in his district and others that serve mostly students from low-income families who may be at risk of falling behind their peers.

Vaccinating teachers would be the first step, he said.

“Teachers are going to die, and then people are going to say, well, maybe they should have got the vaccine,” Sopke said.

Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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12 thoughts on “Indiana teachers frustrated over longer wait for COVID-19 vaccine

  1. On one hand I get it, on the other hand I’m sick of seeing 100% of my teacher friends from Facebook posting photos of their massive group trips to Florida, going out to bars to meet their friends etc etc etc. Don’t complain about the dangers of the classroom during the day and then go over to your friends house to play board games with 10 of your closes friends at night.

    1. If you’re seeing 100% of your teacher friends act that way, I’m assuming you have very few teacher friends. As a spouse of a teacher, I have seen first hand the steps taken by her and her colleagues to distance themselves and remain safe while outside of school.
      People or any profession are still only people after all. Just wanted to point out the disingenuous nature of your blanket categorization of all teachers.

    2. Brian – I am 100% with you on this. The schools push for social distance, masks, etc,, but on breaks they are letting loose. That’s great, but they are bringing it back to the classroom, in addition to the rest of the student body that did the same thing.

    1. Teachers are a profession that deal with multiple people face to face every day. It’s not unreasonable for them and other front-line workers to want earlier access to the vaccine. The fact that other states are making teachers and front-line workers a priority for vaccines and Indiana is not says a lot about our “State That Works”.

    2. If teachers can get vaccinated and stay in the classroom, maybe virtual learning can end and more people can get back to work.

      Teachers don’t seem all that different than firefighters or police when it comes to vaccination priority. But they do vote Democrat in larger numbers… I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

  2. Restaurant workers are also front line workers and should be counted any less than a teacher. However, IN is 100% correct with going after the populations that have the highest death rates! We need to take care of the old.

    1. The appointments for those age 70+ in my area are completely filled thru the end of February!! Waiting to see when they will add more for March! Telephone rep at 211 said “we didn’t expect this kind of response”. Really??

  3. I agree teachers should be prioritized in receiving the vaccine if they want it. They are at a higher risk than the general population due to the nature of their work and should get the benefit of the doubt on this issue. I am 65 and do not feel comfortable being given a dose ahead of our educators. I think they need it more than I do.

    1. my mother is 85 and lives in CA and the CA website crashed. A state that is home to technology has government websites that do not work because of obsolescence. Again when we allocate limited health care, we should look at best outcomes. Older people have worse outcomes and I support attacking the most at risk groups. Death outcomes seems to be the highest order.

  4. Teachers are always frustrated or angry about something. My mom was a special ed teacher in a Charter school. She didn’t do it for the money or to be first in-line. Wait your turn. There are more dire people that need the vaccine. Healthcare providers, the elderly, grocery workers that must work to keep everyone fed, police, fire, etc. I am 40 and am happy to give these people first shot (no pun intended). I don’t suspect teachers will come back to school just because they received a vaccination.

  5. If so many people believe that it is important for in-person learning, we should be doing more to make sure it happens safely. One way is to vaccinate teachers. Politicians put your vaccine where your mouth is!

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