Florida’s K-12 teachers and staff of any age, as well as childcare workers, will be able to get COVID vaccines under a plan by the Biden administration.
Those vaccines are connected to a federal plan to administer shots for residents at pharmacies such as CVS, Publix, Winn-Dixie and Walmart.
But not all of those pharmacies will administer those shots, in part because Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order references educators of age 50 or older, and there’s been some confusion on what’s happening on the vaccine front for teachers.
At a news conference Thursday in Citrus County, DeSantis weighed in on the teacher vaccine issue, saying:
“Our view is, if you’re 25, you’re just at less risk than somebody that’s 80. That’s just the bottom line. Ninety-five-point-seven percent of all COVID-related fatality has been above the age of 50. And so, the age-based approach, we think, is the most effective to reduce mortality,” DeSantis said.
“At the same time, the federal government is the one sending us the vaccine. If they want it to be for all ages, they have the ability to go and do that. And so, the pharmacies, they’re obviously going to accommodate that. These sites will accommodate that,” he said.
Later in the day, when there seemed to be continued confusion over who gets the educator shots, the Phoenix asked for clarification from the governor’s office.
Spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice emailed a response, saying: “It’s our understanding that participants in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program are following federal guidelines.
“The Governor’s executive order continues to prioritize school employees, sworn law enforcement and firefighters age 50 and over.”
President Biden earlier this week said, “My challenge to all states, territories, the District of Columbia is this: We want every educator, school staff member, childcare worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March.”
CVS Pharmacy took action and opened some vaccine sites in Florida for all educators, regardless of age. Now, Walmart Pharmacy is making similar moves.
Both of these retail pharmacies are a part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.
Publix and Winn-Dixie pharmacies are also a part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, but it is not yet clear if they will follow suit. So far, they are keeping in line with state priorities and vaccinating educators age 50 and older.
With vaccines available to more educators across the state, teachers have already started signing up for appointment windows. But those are filling up fast.
Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, told the Phoenix that teachers in her union are very excited to get the vaccine, but are already having difficulties signing up for an appointment because slots are full.
Kevin Daly, president of the Teachers Association of Lee county, told the Phoenix that teachers are busy Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. due to their work schedule, so that limits their ability to sign up for an appointment for a COVID vaccine.
Matt Hazel, a high school English teacher and a member of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, said that he’s feeling a “mixture of elation — and disappointment that it took this long.”
Overall, Hazel is glad that teachers and school personnel of all ages are able to get the vaccine, but he’s not sure if it will make a huge difference to life within the school buildings yet.
It will take time for educators to be fully vaccinated even as the pandemic continues, and the school year ends in May. Hazel said he’s “not sure that too much is actually going to change on the ground in terms of practice.”
But a vaccine shot could help with the overall stress of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The amount of stress that working during a pandemic has caused all of us, not just teachers, has certainly been in the background of everything that we do,” he told the Phoenix. “I am quite sure [the COVID vaccine] will be a huge load off of every teacher.”
Phoenix deputy editor Michael Moline contributed to this report.