One million people have died of COVID-19 in the United States. Millions more, including as many as 20 percent of educators, suffer from long-term COVID symptoms. But almost a third of principals, and district leaders haven’t gotten a COVID-19 booster shot, new survey data show.
Some non-boosted educators believe a booster won’t provide them additional protection or that it isn’t worth the potential side effects. Others aren’t worried about the threat COVID poses to their health.
Fully vaccinated Americans age 12 and older last fall became eligible for their first booster shots. In March, people above age 50, immunocomprised people, and Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients became eligible for a second booster shot four months after their first.
Numerous research studies in the U.S. and other countries show a third shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine offers a significant increase in protection, particularly against severe illness and death, compared with the initial two doses.
COVID-19 cases are on the upswing again, just a few months after the Omicron wave raged nationwide. A handful of schools in Maine, Connecticut, Vermont, and Washington have closed temporarily in recent days after outbreaks among staff and students.
But only 70 percent of teachers, district leaders, and principals had gotten a COVID-19 booster shot as of last month, according to an nationally representative survey of 374 district leaders, 305 principals, and 384 teachers conducted March 30 through April 8 by the EdWeek Research Center.
By contrast, roughly half of eligible Americans have gotten at least one COVID booster, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That amounts to 46 percent of the fully vaccinated population, though some estimates outside the CDC are higher, and the agency has said it may be undercounting booster doses due to data complications. Regardless, booster uptake in the U.S. lags well behind Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
The reasons for educators not getting boosted vary considerably, according to the survey. The most common reason cited, among 29 percent of respondents, was the belief that they don’t need more protection because they already had contracted COVID. Nineteen percent said they don’t believe they need more protection because they had the prior COVID vaccines.
Both of these statements are based on false assumptions. Studies show that booster shots are more effective than initial doses at protecting against the Omicron variant, and that additional vaccine doses provide longer-lasting immunity than antibodies from a COVID-19 infection.
Vaccine hesitancy and COVID denialism are also playing a role. One-quarter of nonboosted respondents to the EdWeek survey said they trust vaccines in general but don’t trust COVID vaccines. Fifteen percent said they don’t believe boosters are effective. Eight percent said they believe boosters would harm their health.
Thirteen percent said they don’t believe COVID is a threat to their health, and 7 percent said they don’t believe COVID is a threat to people around them.
Practical concerns are also fueling booster reluctance for some educators. Eighteen percent of nonboosted respondents said they don’t want to deal with more vaccine side effects.
Two percent said they don’t have access to enough paid leave to recuperate from side effects. The Biden administration last year tried as part of an employer vaccine mandate to require employers to offer employees four hours of paid time off to get a vaccine, but later withdrew the proposed rule after a federal court struck it down. Some school employees have drained sick time or been forced to take unpaid leave for pandemic-related absences.
Not everyone who hasn’t been boosted is against doing so. Fourteen percent of educators who haven’t been boosted yet said they intend to but haven’t gotten around to it. Experts blame scattershot government messaging and dwindling funding to ensure vaccine doses are free for all.
The bulk of recent COVID deaths among vaccinated individuals have been among people who haven’t had a booster shot, according to a Washington Post analysis.