OLYMPIA, Wash. - Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that teachers and licensed child care workers are now eligible to get COVID-19 vaccines.
"The good news is that schools will be able to open and we are pleased that teachers will be back in the classroom very soon. 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."
Inslee made the announcement in response to President Joe Biden's order earlier in the day to prioritize vaccinating teachers during the month of March. The federal government will help in the effort through its partnership with retail pharmacies.
"Like President Biden, I am grateful for the hard work and sacrifice of educators every day, and especially during this pandemic," Inslee said in a statement. "The president has directed us to add preK-12 educators, school staff and licensed childcare workers to our current vaccine prioritization. This directive will be carried out through existing providers and the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, which operates through national pharmacies and independent pharmacy chains.
Inslee's announcement said it will take some time for the Phase Finder tool to update, but that educators and child care workers should schedule appointments as soon as possible.
"Therefore, we are adding educators and licensed childcare workers to Washington’s Phase 1B-1 immediately, Inslee said. "The Washington State Department of Health will have more specific information soon on how those workers can access vaccines. Phase Finder may take time to reflect these changes, but educators and licensed childcare workers can schedule with providers right away."
The current tier of vaccine eligibility also includes those age 65 and up and those 50 and older who live in multigenerational households.
Inslee last month urged more schools to open up to in-person instruction, saying the online classroom experience wasn’t adequate for many.
The Democratic governor said moving toward more in-person instruction is in line with the scientific consensus and the latest guidance from federal officials.
About 36 percent of the state’s roughly 1 million public school students was receiving some level of in-person instruction as of the first week of March, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Biden said his goal is for every pre-kindergarten through 12th grade educator, school staff member and childcare worker to receive at least one shot by the end of March.
To achieve this, Biden announced that qualifying individuals will be able to sign up this month to be vaccinated at a pharmacy near them.
The president said that while schools are safe to reopen even before staff have been vaccinated, "time and again, we’ve heard from educators and parents that have anxieties about that," so to "accelerate" the safe reopening teachers should be prioritized.
The head of the state teacher’s union praised Biden’s call to prioritize teachers for vaccination.
"For those locals still working with their districts to ensure the safest possible return to classrooms, this important layer of protection when offered in concert with CDC, the state Department of Health and Labor and Industries safety requirements, should help build trust and confidence for a return to in-person learning," Washington Education Association President Larry Delany said in a statement.
In December, the state started vaccinating health care workers, high-risk first responders and people living or working in nursing homes. The current tier that includes 65 and older — and will now include teachers — started in January. Later tiers of the state’s vaccination schedule will include people 50 and older who work in congregate settings like agriculture or grocery stores, and those 16 or older with underlying medical conditions. Inslee said that he will soon be announcing further announcements to the state’s vaccinate prioritization schedule.
Biden also said that the U.S. will have enough coronavirus vaccine supply to cover every adult in America by the end of May, two months earlier than anticipated.
He said that to accelerate production of the vaccine, drugmaker Merck & Co. will help produce rival Johnson & Johnson’s newly-approved shot. The administration is invoking the Defense Production Act, a wartime measure that gives the federal government authority to direct private companies to meet the needs of the national defense, to equip two Merck facilities to produce the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Johnson & Johnson will operate 24/7 to produce the vaccine. He also said the Defense Department will provide daily logistical support for the company in its efforts.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.