Washington State Governor Jay Inslee speaks with special ed Pre-K teacher Michelle Ling in her classroom at Phantom Lake Elementary School in Bellevue on Tuesday. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times via AP, Pool)

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee speaks with special ed Pre-K teacher Michelle Ling in her classroom at Phantom Lake Elementary School in Bellevue on Tuesday. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times via AP, Pool)

Governor: Educators are now eligible for coronavirus vaccine

“This should give educators more confidence,” Jay Inslee said. Other frontline workers could soon be next.

OLYMPIA — All teachers and licensed child care workers in Washington are now eligible for COVID vaccines.

But it’s unclear how they’ll secure their doses.

Effective immediately, educators, including preschool instructors, have been moved into the first tier of the state’s phase 1B, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday. They join health care workers; long-term care residents and staff; people over 65; and those 50 and older in multigenerational households.

“The good news is that schools will be able to open and we are pleased that teachers will be back in the classroom,” Inslee said in a news release. “This should give educators more confidence to return to in-person learning and that it can be done with the safety protocols that are being used by 1,400 other schools in our state right now.”

And eligibility could soon follow for grocery store staff, farm workers, food processors and bus drivers, corrections workers and others who work at congregate settings, the governor added.

The decision came shortly after President Joe Biden told governors that states need to start getting doses to educators soon. The president also announced the country will have enough doses for every adult by the end of May, adding all educators should get at least one shot by the end of the month.

It won’t be easy.

Just ask the more than 80,000 people in Snohomish County in the original Phase 1B1 still waiting for their first shot, which includes many of the county’s oldest residents, who are most vulnerable to dying from COVID. And this week, 3,000 of the incoming 13,000 vaccine doses are reserved for first shots, while the rest are for second ones.

Meanwhile, it’s not clear how teachers will access the vaccine.

Under the president’s plan, teachers would be prioritized in the country’s federal pharmacy program, which sends doses directly to local grocery stores and pharmacies. For Washington, that includes all 170 Alberstons, Safeway and Kroger branches.

But Inslee’s announcement said teachers could use Phase Finder to try and schedule appointments with providers “right away.”

On Tuesday night in a news release, the state Department of Health said the agency was reaching out to the federal government for “clarity to ensure rollout in our state will result in ample vaccine supply through various providers and equitable access for education and childcare workers.”

So far, the Snohomish Health District hasn’t received any guidance, from the state or federal government, on how to handle the revision.

The Department of Health remains committed to vaccinating older adults, the agency said. But giving educators eligibility across all providers, with limited supply, will likely mean the few available appointments go to younger people, who are less likely to experience severe illness from COVID, but are more tech savvy and apt to secure a dose than older residents.

For months, that has been Inslee’s argument for keeping educators out of the earliest vaccine phases.

“There’s a mathematical equation here we have to face,” the governor said at a late January news conference. “Every teacher that is vaccinated today means one less 80-, 90-, 100-, 70-, 65-year-old person doesn’t get a vaccine. … I just do not believe that 25-year-old teachers think they should be getting in line ahead of their 80-year-old grandparents.”

Nationally, most states elected to include all school staff in the earliest vaccine phases.

Some, including Washington, prioritized older residents who are the most likely to experience severe illness or death.

In February, the governor outlined a plan to bring state-funded COVID-19 testing directly to schools as a way to build confidence in reopening.

State reports have shown that on-campus transmission of COVID is relatively low. The federal Centers for Disease Control has said vaccinating teachers isn’t essential for a safe reopening.

“The data and research show that if schools follow all health and safety requirements, they can safely reopen without widespread vaccination within the school community,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said in a statement. “However, like President Biden, we know vaccination of school employees is an additional layer of protection that will provide comfort to staff, students, and families.”

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; jthompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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