Tennessee public health officials have decided to move educators and anyone else who works in schools and daycares higher up in the state’s vaccine distribution plan, possibly getting them vaccinated in early February.
The state has moved down younger people who have multiple risk factors for COVID complications.
Gov. Bill Lee had hinted weeks ago that teachers may need to move up in the pecking order, given his insistence that schools meet in person. That’s despite his work-from-home order. But the prioritization doesn’t change anything about the state’s stance on in-person schooling next year, says Dr. Lisa Piercey, head of the Tennessee Department of Health.
“In no stretch of the imagination do we ever link vaccination of teachers to school opening, because we are staunch advocates for schools to be open now,” she says. “But this will help us further teachers in the classroom and kids in the classroom, which is the best thing for our society and economy.”
The rough timeline puts school and childcare workers beginning to receive vaccines in February.
More immediately, the state is moving up people age 75 and older in an effort to drive down hospitalizations and fatalities as quickly as possible. People over 65 make up more than half of the state’s hospitalizations and 80% of deaths. Piercey says some counties are ready to begin vaccinating elderly people right now, but most will begin in January.
Every state has been given leeway in how it distributes vaccines. Everyone began with frontline health care workers followed by nursing home residents.
Tennessee also included first responders in the initial phase. Other states, like Massachusetts, have sent early vaccine doses to prisons and jails, since they’ve had some of the largest outbreaks. Tennessee opted to put them near the end of the priority list, along with grocery store workers.