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The latest news from every corner of the state, including policy emerging from Missouri's capitol.

Slow Vaccine Rollout Means Missouri Teachers Will Have To Wait For COVID-19 Protection

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Missouri education officials still don’t know when or how teachers will receive COVID-19 vaccines.

Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spokeswoman Mallory McGowin told the state board yesterday that because Missouri hasn’t received as many doses as anticipated, it’s still in phase 1A of its vaccine distribution plan. That category includes patient-facing health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities but very few school employees.

“As we speak, plans are being developed for school nurses to be vaccinated,” McGowin said. “Then all of the remaining educators and school staff members fall within (phase) 1B.”

That includes some school employees who were left out of phase 1A but are actually patient-facing, like those who work with medically fragile students.

Though districts are eager to vaccinate staff to slow adult transmission in schools, the vast majority of teachers and school employees will have to wait weeks or months for more vaccines to become available.

Charlie Shields, the president of the state board and the CEO of Truman Medical Center, said the Missouri Hospital Association is ready to set up vaccine clinics in schools. School gyms are actually great places to hold vaccine clinics, Shields said, because there is plenty of space for social distancing while people are monitored for 15 minutes to make sure they don’t have an adverse reaction.

“So it takes a lot of manpower to do these, but when you set them up right you can do hundreds if not thousands,” Shields said.

Several state board members expressed that they would like to see the state prioritize teachers within phase 1B, when other essential workers and high-risk individuals are all eligible to be vaccinated.

“People who have the ability to stay home and stay home and stay away from it should come after teachers who are out there are doing their job with kids every day,” board member Victor Lenz said.

McGowin was hopeful that she would have more details for school districts and teachers in a few weeks. She said some school nurses are eager to help vaccinate staff, but in other places, teachers may have to travel to a nearby pharmacy to get their shots.

Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven said everyone is frustrated by how little information is available.

“Not knowing how many resources are out there has been very problematic for the state,” Vandeven said. “If we knew the number of vaccines, I would tell you. I would assure you. I hope every local school board is having these conversations because when it does hit, we want to go.”

However, schools will still have to deal with COVID-19 after teachers and staff are vaccinated. That’s because the vaccine doesn’t stop you from spreading the virus, just from getting seriously ill. In fact, the state still recommends that vaccinated teachers quarantine if exposed to the coronavirus.

And that means precautions like masks and handwashing are likely to be with us into the 2021-22 school year.

Copyright 2021 KCUR 89.3

Elle covers education for KCUR. The best part of her job is talking to students. Before coming to KCUR in 2014, Elle covered Indiana education policy for NPR’s StateImpact project. Her work covering Indiana’s exit from the Common Core was nationally recognized with an Edward R. Murrow award. Her work at KCUR has been recognized by the Missouri Broadcasters Association and the Kansas City Press Club. She is a graduate of the University Of Missouri School Of Journalism. Elle regularly tweets photos of her dog, Kingsley. There is a wounded Dr. Ian Malcolm bobblehead on her desk.
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