SC teacher advocacy group wants teachers prioritized in next COVID-19 vaccine phase

Making The Grade

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) – Teacher advocacy groups are pushing for South Carolina’s governor to prioritize vaccinating all teachers against COVID-19.

The Palmetto State Teachers Association (PSTA) and the South Carolina Education Association (SCEA) are asking Gov. Henry McMaster to move teachers to the top of phase 1b, which is the next coronavirus vaccine group and estimated to start in early spring.

“Schools are powerless to fight the spread of COVID outside of the school building and that’s why this vaccine is a gamechanger,” said PSTA spokesperson Patrick Kelly.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) says 1b includes an estimated 573,501 frontline essential workers. Those include educators, first responders like law enforcement officers and firefighters not vaccinated in phase 1a, mail workers and grocery store employees.

The state, however, has not said what order all those groups could get the vaccine.

“What we’re asking for is for the governor to follow the recommendation he’s gotten from our state Superintendent of Education to create a bit of a priority list,” Kelly said.

In a letter, the PSTA and SCEA told Gov. McMaster that prioritizing educators in phase 1b will prevent a major hurdle for keeping schools open: staff shortages due to high-risk or quarantining teachers.

“Once they have access to the vaccine, most of those individuals will be medically cleared and able to be back into a face-to-face learning environment, which obviously gives districts more available staff,” said Kelly.

The PSTA also says more vaccinated teachers, along with following COVID-19 protocols, can create safer learning environments for everyone in schools.

“We’re seeing several states across the southeast and nation that are already vaccinating teachers,” Kelly said. “South Carolina students deserve the exact same thing to happen here.”

Sen. Greg Hembree, R-North Myrtle Beach and chair of the state Senate’s education committee, says he strongly supports prioritizing teachers in phase 1b.

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