Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Texas will receive 1.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccines as soon as Dec. 14. Initial distribution will then begin across the state, and a list from Texas' health department shows that health care workers will be first in line to receive it.
Educators weren’t included, though, which prompted Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner to send Abbott a letter asking him to add teachers and principals. Superintendents from four of the state’s largest districts were signatories, including Dallas ISD’s Michael Hinojosa.
In the letter, Scribner said teachers are public servants whose work has “lasting implications for generations of Texans to come.”
“Our campus-based educators are on the front lines every day. They are teaching in person, interacting with children and other adults,” he wrote. “And, while they are utilizing best practices in safety protocols, they are still at a much higher risk of contracting COVID than those of us who can work in a closed office setting or from home.”
Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The impending arrival of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines comes as North Texas continues to grapple with sky-high coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. It’s good news, no doubt, but it also signals a set of logistical challenges regarding distribution.
Dallas ISD spokeswoman Robyn Harris said it’s essential that frontline workers such as doctors, firefighters and military members be at the head of the queue. Teachers should be included, too, since they are also in contact with the public on a daily basis.
By Thursday, 838 Dallas ISD campus and central staff had been infected with the disease since Sept. 28, according to the district's COVID-19 dashboard.
Although it could have been an oversight, it’s surprising that teachers weren’t on the initial distribution list, said Dr. Erin Carlson, an associate clinical professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at the University of Texas at Arlington. Immediately vaccinating teachers will convey the idea that schools are safe environments for kids, which could help enrollment numbers.
Last month, Dallas ISD reported significant learning loss among students.
If parents feel that schools are unsafe and keep students at home for online learning, that could carry serious social and economic ramifications for decades to come, Carlson said. Public education was similarly hit during World War II, and those students felt the long-term economic impact even 40 years later.
Should kids be kept out of the classroom, Carlson said, there could be anywhere from $14 to $28 trillion in losses to the economy, based on estimates on the importance of education to our future workforce.
It’s a good idea to dose teachers in the initial round; otherwise, some may opt to quit because of safety concerns, Carlson said. That could similarly harm children’s ability to learn.
Women are also having to leave the workforce in “record numbers,” Carlson said.
“Women still take on the majority of our childcare responsibilities,” she said. “The school system is charged with not only education, but we also rely on our school system for childcare.”
Both types of vaccine will require two doses. The initial 1.4 million people will get their first dose beginning in mid-December, with the second shipment arriving sometime in January, according to The Texas Tribune.
There are more than 320,000 teachers and 80,000 additional professional staff working in the state’s public schools, according to the Texas Education Agency.
Meanwhile, North Texas continues to count a high COVID-19 hospitalization rate. Wednesday marked the sixth consecutive day the region reported those patients are taking up more than 15% of hospital beds, according to the state’s health department.
Dr. Philip Huang, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, said on Thursday that he expects the region to hit the seven-day threshold, after which a governor’s executive order will close bars and roll back restaurant capacity.
“We don’t see any slowing down in that,” Huang said, adding that residents should get their flu shot and remember to sign up for the Affordable Care Act by its Dec. 15 deadline.
News of the vaccines’ arrival is also imparting hope on a national scale. Wednesday, former Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton announced they will each receive their dose on camera. They hope that by doing so, the public will be more confident in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, according to CNN.
Carlson said she was “delighted” to see those three leaders, who hold varying political ideologies, band together to promote the vaccines. During their time in office, each solemnly believed they had been charged with protecting the health of the American people.
Science has since become a partisan matter, which Carlson said worries her for the future of public health.
“I just keep thinking about the younger generation, and I’m sad that so many of them have received the message that protecting one’s health can be a political issue,” she said.