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Teachers struggle with new vaccine eligibility

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO

The administration of Gov. Charlie Baker has decided to follow the fed’s advice and prioritize K-12 educators for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Massachusetts. But the plan lacks specificity, according to the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

Union officials have been lobbying the state with their own plan, the Last Mile vaccination program. MTA President Merrie Najimy says learning gaps are already severe, and the governor’s lack of a detailed plan will increase those gaps.

“We’re really quite frustrated with the state, because we have been trying to work this plan out with [Health and Human Services] Secretary Sudders. We’ve got very little commitment on most things,” Najimy told the Banner.

Per the state’s announcement last week, educators can start booking appointments as of March 11, but they will be competing for the limited number of doses available to the long list of eligible patients in phases one and two. They estimate that it will take a month for all eligible individuals to schedule their first dose.

The MTA’s plan is to have the state set aside a percentage of doses for pop-up vaccination sites at schools, and rotate teachers and staff in shifts to limit the need for substitutes. Najimy said leaving appointments up to the individual can be discouraging.

“If we do it piecemeal and through a random sign-up-yourself, it’s going to take us far longer to get to herd immunity inside of school buildings, and the people who lose … are families of color,” she said.

Lea Serena, a second-grade teacher at Mather Elementary School and a member of the Boston Teachers Union, told the Banner about her experience scheduling an appointment for her first shot. Compared to her colleagues, Serena’s in-person class during the pandemic is very large. She has an average of 11 students during the week. She said the students are very excited to be back.

“The kids are just really resilient and amazing. They’re keeping their masks on, they’re staying away from each other, and so I think it’s really up to us to do our part to keep them safe at this point,” Serena said.

The appointments at her local CVS opened up at 6 a.m., which is in the middle of Serena’s commute to school. “We’ve been in email threads just going crazy,” she said. “By 6:45, they’re gone.”

Other members of BTU have been communicating constantly to get appointments for each other and come up with more ideas on how to get members vaccinated. Serena now has an appointment on Saturday, but her colleagues weren’t as lucky. And there’s still the gap between her two shots, she noted.

“I’ll have to take another one in four weeks and then wait for it to be effective, so it will be close to the end of the [school] year by the time we are really protected by it,” she said.

However it’s still important for her, she said, in order to protect kids in summer school and prepare for next school year in the fall.

Though Serena was excited to hear that the state changed the eligibility, she knows that the responsibility is still mainly on the educators. “All we can do is continue to try,” she said.

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