Nearly 80 percent of the nation’s teachers, school staff members, and child care workers had received at least their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
School administrators and policymakers have seen vaccines as a key tool to reopening schools by protecting adults from infection and giving them greater confidence about teaching in person.
Tuesday’s announcement came after President Joe Biden directed states in March to prioritize teachers for early vaccine doses and made inoculations available to them through a federal pharmacy program.
At the time of Biden’s announcement, 34 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico had made some or all teachers eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine, according to an Education Week tracker.
Many states that had not yet included school staff in their priority populations made the shift days after Biden’s announcement.
“Our push to ensure that teachers, school staff, and child care workers were vaccinated during March has paid off and paved the way for safer in-person learning,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.
The CDC’s previous guidance for schools identified vaccines as an additional strategy for safe reopenings, but Walensky has said teacher vaccines are not necessarily a prerequisite to reopening.
The CDC’s estimate is based on internal data and surveys it conducted in partnership with other federal agencies. The survey collected responses from about 13,000 school employees and about 40,000 child care workers, drawing a pool of responses that was demographically similar to national employment data.
The federal estimate came as the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest union, shared an internal poll with CBS News that found 81 percent of educators surveyed had been vaccinated or were scheduled to receive a vaccine. Of the respondents who had not been vaccinated or were not scheduled to do so, about half said they didn’t plan to get the shot, CBS reported.
About 2 million education and child care workers received shots through the federal pharmacy program, the CDC said. Others received shots through state programs. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires a single dose. Vaccines created by manufacturers Moderna and Pfizer require two injections spaced 21 to 28 days apart.
The news about teacher vaccines come as states around the country open vaccine access to their general populations.
Biden, who had previously directed states offer vaccines to their full adult populations by May 1, revised that deadline Tuesday, directing them to do so by April 19 instead.
Public health officials have stressed the urgency of vaccinating wide swaths of the population as quickly as possible, trying to beat the spread and emergence of new, more contagious variants of the virus.
Their efforts come after agencies like the CDC have stressed that schools can more easily operate in person if virus levels remain low in their surrounding communities.