A day after President Biden and other public officials ramped up pressure to vaccinate teachers, Gov. Charlie Baker announced that teachers, school staff and early childhood educators will be able to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine starting Thursday, March 11.
Baker said there will be specific days at state mass vaccination sites for educator appointments, and that he will release more information about that soon.
Baker made his announcement from West Parish Elementary School in Gloucester, after a tour with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Education Commissioner Jeff Riley, Education Secretary James Peyser and Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken.
The state has already received 58,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — which requires only one shot instead of two — but Baker said he doesn't expect to get more of that until the end of the month.
He also cautioned patience, as many people who are eligible for receiving the vaccine still haven't gotten one.
"If we are patient, everyone who wants [a vaccine] will eventually get one," he said.
Citing improved COVID-19 case numbers, Baker and Riley have begun a push for full-time, in-person education at all Massachusetts elementary schools by April. That push was met with calls for the administration to more quickly allow teachers to receive vaccinations.
One New Bedford English teacher told WBUR vaccination will alleviate some of his concerns about returning to school, but not all of them, like how spring learning will work and what the workload will be like for teachers.
"I have come to the point where I am numbed to the email notifications from our headmaster saying that another person in our community has been infected," Takeru Nagayoshi said. "I have felt hesitant about school reopenings around the entire state, but also had to convince myself that, you know, this is what it is. And knowing that we will get vaccines create like makes me able to do my job without the fear of being infected."
Multiple educators credited the Biden administration with pushing the change into effect, bypassing what had been a frustrating delay in Massachusetts.
Rosalinda Midence, who has worked in student support in the Boston Public Schools for 26 years, said she was "overwhelmed with happiness" when the administration came out in favor of promptly vaccinating teachers.
Baker's announcement this morning put an end to what Midence saw as a contradictory aspect of the governor's rhetoric. "I respect the phases he was doing... But if you’re asking to open schools [in person], and you’re not vaccinating educators, it’s a problem," Midence said.
It contributed to a perception, Midence said, that teachers and staff did not want to return to in-person teaching — which she sees as fundamentally incorrect.
"As teachers, we were texting, like, “oh my God, this is great!" after the Biden announcement, Midence said. It promised an end to what she called "the fear": that returning to work that she loves, engaging directly with non-traditional high school students at Boston Day and Evening Academy, might endanger those students, herself or her elderly mother.
Leaders with the Massachusetts Teachers Association called the announcement a huge victory for school communities across the state. The teachers union along with school leadership groups and several education organizations have been lobbying the Baker administration for weeks to rank teachers higher in the priority list for vaccinations.
"I can tell you with confidence that educators across the state are feeling joyful,” said Merrie Najimy, the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. “And this victory was won through the efforts of a village. The unionized educators made their case. Superintendents, principals, elected officials added their voice."
Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, said he credited President Biden with influencing Baker to make the change.
"I'd like to say it's our dynamic leadership that's led to the governors being influenced to bring everybody back to school, but I really have to give the credit where credit is due," Koocher said. "And that's the administration in Washington, where the president made a national directive to get the teachers vaccinated. That put a lot of pressure ... on the governors."
On Tuesday, Biden said 30 states have prioritized educators for vaccinations and directed the others to do the same, saying he wanted "every educator, school staff member, childcare worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March."
"As yet another move to help accelerate the safe reopening of our schools, let's treat in-person learning like an essential service that it is," Biden said. "And that means getting essential workers who provide that service - educators, school staff, childcare workers — get them vaccinated immediately. They're essential workers."
Starting next week and for the month of March, Biden said, the government will use its federal pharmacy program to prioritize the vaccination of pre-K through 12 educators and staff and child-care workers.
"Throughout March, they will be able to prioritize the vaccination of pre-K-through-12 educators and staff and childcare workers," he said. "Throughout March, they will be able to sign up for an appointment at a pharmacy near them."
Tying her demand to Baker's push for in-person elementary school in April, Senate President Karen Spilka said Tuesday that "we need a vaccine program for teachers and staff that is aggressive, and we need it this month."
With reporting from WBUR's Meghan Kelly, Carrie Jung and Max Larkin, as well as State House News Service's Michael P. Norton
This article was originally published on March 03, 2021.
This segment aired on March 4, 2021.