Massachusetts officials plan to designate four COVID-19 vaccination days for teachers, school staff and child care workers, all of whom become eligible to request a vaccine appointment Thursday morning.
Some 400,000 educators, staff and child care workers will be able to get an appointment at one of the state’s super vaccination sites on March 27, April 3, April 10 and April 11, said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. The first three dates fall on a Saturday, and the fourth is on a Sunday.
Sudders said these workers will have to sign up using the state’s new pre-registration website if they want an appointment on one of the four dates. That website goes live on Friday. They can also seek appointments Thursday morning with the general population, but not for those designated days.
“We moved up educators to align Massachusetts with the Biden-Harris administration’s directive for states to prioritize teacher vaccinations,” said Sudders, who heads the COVID-19 Command Center. “We do that understanding we are not getting [an] additional state distribution increase in our vaccines.”
Sudders said she learned Tuesday the federal government wouldn’t increase how many doses Massachusetts gets shipped this month, despite the emergency use authorization issued to Johnson & Johnson for its single-dose vaccine. She estimated the four designated days would prioritize educators for at least 20,000 vaccinations.
On the four designated days, the state’s seven mass vaccination sites will only be open to educators, school staff and child care workers, as well as anyone who scheduled a second-dose appointment.
For months, teacher’s unions have pushed for the Baker administration to move up educators and other child care workers in the state’s vaccination rollout. The calls for vaccine access only grew louder as Commissioner Jeff Riley announced plans to mandate K-12 schools to bring children back into the classroom five days a week, starting with elementary schools in April.
Senate President Karen Spilka was one of several lawmakers calling for teachers to get vaccinated if they’re expected to return to the classroom with children, who cannot yet be vaccinated.
Designated vaccine days are significant, as educators will face competition to secure vaccine appointments. Because of the state’s limited vaccine supply, there are still senior residents and people with two or more co-morbidities who have not been able to make an appointment yet for immunization.
The state last week estimated that it would take a month for all eligible K-12 workers to secure a first appointment based on the current vaccine supply.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association has pushed the state to follow its Last Mile Program, which calls to have firefighters and emergency professionals administer vaccines directly in communities. The MTA says the program would solve registration issues and will help achieve herd immunity faster.
Teacher vaccinations, along with school mitigation efforts like masking, distancing and handwashing, have been cited by Riley as reasons to return to traditional education five days a week.
Last week, Riley was given authority to determine when districts must prioritize five days of in-person schooling for students. Parents, however, are able to opt to keep children home for remote learning through the rest of the school year.
Elementary school students are required to be in school five days a week by April 5, Riley said. Middle schoolers follow, with a required return date of April 28 for full-time learning. Riley expects to determine a return date for high school students next month.
By the next academic year, fully in-person schooling is expected for all age groups, Riley said.