By Tim Gruver
(The Center Square) – Washington teachers are now eligible for a shot in the arm following word from the federal government the general public could have access to COVID-19 vaccinations this spring.
Gov. Jay Inslee gave the go ahead on Tuesday in light of official guidance from the Biden administration to add preschool and K-12 educators, school staff, and licensed childcare workers to its phased vaccine prioritization.
Those groups are now eligible for vaccinations, effective immediately, as part of the state’s Phase 1b, which is to be conducted through providers and participating pharmacy chains with the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. Shots will come at no cost to state residents with or without health insurance.
The news follows word from the Biden administration last month that the federal government had bought another 200 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines last month, enough to vaccinate most of the U.S. population. The two vaccines are estimated to be about 95% effective against COVID-19 based on human trial data submitted and reviewed by the FDA last winter.
This week, the Biden administration announced that the federal government will be partnering with pharmaceutical company Merck to produce enough vaccines to vaccinate the nation as early as the start of May, nearly a month ahead of the administration’s prior target date of July.
A vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, which was approved by the FDA on Friday, is estimated to be 66% effective in curbing mild to moderate symptoms of the disease and 86% effective against severe symptoms and death. Its first 20 million doses are expected to make landfall in the states by the end of March with another 100 million on the way by June.
Until now, Washington’s Phase 1a had been prioritizing vaccinations for seniors, health care workers, and people in long-term care facilities. The state has administered about 75% of the 2.4 million doses it’s received to date. The CDC’s COVID Tracker shows 8% of the state has received their first dose and another 15% have gotten both doses.
People can find out more about their eligibility on the Washington Department of Health’s website. Vaccinations are by appointment only.
According to the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, about 36% of K-12 students across some 1,400 schools were learning in a classroom some or all of the time.
“Like President Biden, I am grateful for the hard work and sacrifice of educators every day, and especially during this pandemic,” Inslee said. “We will continue the current state plans and goals to focus on those most at risk, including older adults and those facing the greatest equity gaps.”
Inslee’s orders contrast existing CDC guidelines which recommend classrooms reopen for in-person learning regardless of vaccination rates among teachers.
Washington state schools boss Chris Reykdal added on Tuesday that it’s in the state’s best interest to vaccinate as many teachers as possible just in case.
“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,” Reykdal said in a statement.
The vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are approved for those ages 16 and up, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was green lit by the FDA for those ages 18 and up.
Inslee added on Tuesday that the state will soon announce its timeline for vaccinating grocery store employees, farmworkers, food processors, bus drivers, corrections workers, among others working in congregate settings.
In the meantime, more mass vaccination sites are cropping up all over the state. Seattle expects to open one at Lumen Field by mid-March, which could administer up to 21,000 shots per day or 150,000 vaccinations every week for the Puget Sound region.
Washington has joined a number of states around the country seeing COVID-19 case rates slow in past weeks, but state health officials caution that two new strains of virus in the state may give the pandemic a boost.
Originally published by The Center Square. Republished with permission.