This morning, Governor McMaster announced South Carolina will transition to Phase 1b in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. This is an exciting moment as it marks another important milestone in our state’s journey to move past the pandemic, and the news that an additional 2.7 million South Carolinians can now register for vaccination appointments should be celebrated. However, as the largest association for professional educators in our state, PSTA is disappointed that the Governor has chosen not to prioritize educator access to the vaccine within Phase 1b. This prioritization is something that has been requested by Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, voted for by a unanimous South Carolina Senate, and, as of today, enacted by 33 states, including both of our neighboring states.
For weeks, the Governor stated “teachers will be vaccinated soon but not at the expense of those who are so much more likely to die without the vaccine.” While PSTA has advocated for vaccination of both the elderly and educators, we have consistently supported the Governor’s efforts to ensure vaccine access for those age 65 and above. However, today’s announcement is a different matter as the Governor could have prioritized educator vaccine access within Phase 1b without delaying vaccinations for anyone over the age of 65. Instead, today’s action means many teachers will not be able to secure a vaccine appointment for weeks or months.
Schools in our state have deployed a variety of strategies and measures to keep students and staff safe during the pandemic, but as increasing numbers of schools return to five day, face-to-face instructional models, vaccine access is a critically important tool to ensure effective and safe school operations. As noted in a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the overwhelming majority of instances of in-school transmission of COVID-19 have been between staff members or from staff to students. Vaccinating our educators will further mitigate the risk of transmission in schools, something that becomes more important as daily school enrollment increases with the shift away from hybrid instructional models. Additionally, prioritizing educator access to vaccines could enhance student learning. Currently, hundreds of teachers across South Carolina are out each day due to contracting COVID-19 or complying with quarantine protocols. As a result, students across the state are walking into school buildings on a daily basis only to enter classrooms without teachers. However, the CDC recently announced that vaccinated individuals are not required to quarantine in the event of exposure to a case of COVID-19, meaning educator vaccinations would lead to an immediate decrease in educator absences across the state with a resulting increase in student instruction and learning.
The Governor has pushed for five day, face-to-face instruction since July 2020. This is a worthy goal, but to fully achieve the goal of rich, daily face-to-face instructional options for all students, our state must deploy all available resources and tools in the fight against COVID-19. Prioritizing educators would require less than our state’s current vaccine allotment for a single week but would pay benefits for students for the remainder of the school year. PSTA is disappointed that our state has missed this opportunity to prioritize education.