AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texans who work in schools, including teachers, staff and bus drivers, are now eligible to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
On Wednesday, the Texas Department of State Health Services announced, upon direction from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, eligibility will be expanded to “those who work in pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools, as well as Head Start and Early Head Start programs (including teachers, staff, and bus drivers) and those who work as or for licensed child care providers, including center-based and family care providers.”
Texas DSHS says, however, this does not change the other groups that were already prioritized. Providers will be encouraged to vaccinate health care workers, people with medical conditions and those 65 and older first.
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In a statement to KXAN, the Leander Independent School District said in the short term, this expansion does not impact in-person learning, as mask-wearing and other COVID-19 safety protocols will remain in place. The district is glad teachers are being added to the priority list, and it is working to assist in that effort in any way it can.
Austin ISD tells KXAN it is working with partner organizations to alert teachers about possible appointments.
“We have been able to work with several organizations in the community, Ascension Seton, CommUnityCare and Austin Public Health,” Alexandra Copeland, Austin ISD’s director of Health Services said.
CVS Pharmacy: Teachers/some school workers are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine
Currently, Austin ISD has offered vaccines to more than 2,000 workers in Phases 1A and 1B. More than 700 got the vaccine last month, and the district has 700 left in those priority groups to vaccinate. The district hopes the new vaccination efforts will increase in-person learning for students.
But changes won’t happen overnight. The district says it will continue to offer remote learning through the end of the year. The union, Education Austin, says it is working with the district to find solutions to get workers safely back on campus.
Mask mandates in schools
The vaccine expansion comes after the statewide mask mandate was halted by Gov. Greg Abbott — causing new health fears from school communities, who must now operate under these guidelines. But several teaching associations are now looking to the Texas Education Agency to help schools be as safe as they can be right now.
Wednesday afternoon, TEA released its newest 2020-21 Public Health Planning Guidance — changes which are effective immediately.
Under new guidelines, masks will automatically be required for students, teachers or staff members, however, individual school boards will be able to vote to modify or eliminate the requirement. Certain individuals will be exempt from mask-wearing, including those younger than 10, those with medical disabilities preventing it and while eating/drinking.
In accordance with previous guidance, social distancing will still be practiced where feasible, and campuses must plan for ways to reduce large, close-proximity gatherings.
The TEA recommends schools designate a person or a group who will be responsible for responding to COVID-19 concerns.
Statements from providers
Austin Public Health said in its pre-registration system, there are already questions included about occupation. In the coming days, staff should be able to mark school workers and child care providers not included in the current phases as eligible to schedule and appointment now.
“Austin Public Health has emphasized the importance of education throughout our pandemic response and vaccinating school and child care workers will help ensure the continuity of education. Currently in our pre-registration system we have questions about occupation. In the coming days, we will be able to now mark those who indicated they were school faculty/staff or a child care provider, and were not already eligible under 1A or 1B, as eligible to schedule an appointment. As a reminder, we have more than 200,000 people pre-registered and eligible without an appointment and we will continue to work to vaccinate as many people as possible with the allocation we are given from the state.“
H-E-B said it will follow the government’s specific guidelines for vaccine distribution.
“Committed to the health and wellness of our customers and Partners, H-E-B pharmacies will continue to partner with the federal and state government to administer the COVID-19 vaccine. The government has set specific guidelines for distribution of the vaccine, which H-E-B will strictly follow.”
A spokesperson for Randalls says it is their understanding that all of its vaccine providers have added these new groups to the list of those eligible for the vaccine. The company says it is getting a limited number of doses and looks forward to the day when there is more widespread availability.