JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Teachers in Missouri sent a letter to the state health director to ask they be made a priority and to be vaccinated as soon as possible.
Teachers fall under Phase 1B, tier 3 in Missouri’s vaccination plan. Currently, the state is vaccinating Phase 1A and 1B, tiers 1 and 2, and Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) Dr. Randall Williams said it could be the middle of March before the next tier is eligible. Educators are saying they’ve waited too long to be protected.
“I understand which tier we are in, but it is really important that we were vaccinated yesterday,” said Darrion Cockrell, Missouri Teacher of the Year.
More than 25 states in the US are currently vaccinating teachers, but Missouri is not one of them.
“They want their teachers to be there for their students because they know how important teachers are for those kids,” Cockrell said. “I wish and I hope that Missouri understands that we are just as important as those other teachers and that we need to be at the top of the list too.”
Cockrell is an elementary physical education and health teacher in the Lindbergh School District and has been teaching for six years. He is one of five teachers who sent the letter to Williams. The other four teachers are also recipients of Missouri Teacher of the Year awards.
“The state wants us to be there for our kids, they want us to be in person, they want us to continue being there to support and be the foundation for our students, but at the end of the day we need to understand that we definitely care about our health and our lives,” Cockrell said.
Cockrell said teachers need to be vaccinated so they know they are protected.
“Once you are vaccinated, then you know you have that extra layer of protection which is what we need to be there for our kids,” he said. “We want to be there for our kids. That is a huge priority for us.”
The letter is asking the state to prioritize Missouri teachers and staff for the vaccine. It goes on to say some districts no longer identify close contacts and some schools are teaching without mask protocols.
“Being a teacher is hard but not having the support from your own state makes it harder because at the end of the day, we’re not safe. We’re not in a safe environment and we’re doing the best that we can with the resources we have, but we know there are more for us to have,” Cockrell said. “Once you’re vaccinated, then you know you have that extra layer of protection which is what we need to be there for our kids.”
Williams said in response to the letter:
We look forward to the day when supply increases to the point where we can vaccinate our teachers and enhance classroom safety. Right now, Missouri remains committed to protecting the more than 3 million senior citizens, health care providers, first responders and those with underlying health conditions who are currently eligible for the vaccine. With the limited amount of vaccine currently available, we must prioritize those most vulnerable. We remain hard at work on our goal to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to EVERY Missourian who wants to be vaccinated.
Cockrell said teachers and staff have to be around multiple people throughout the day, and do not know where those people have been or who they’ve been in contact with.
“I don’t want everyone to think that we as teachers feel like we are more important than the elderly or people in the tiers above us, but at the end of the day, we are all important,” Cockrell said.
He said most teachers he has spoken to say they want to get the vaccine, and they want to get it as soon as possible.
“I don’t think it’s okay for us to wait until the end of the school year when we’ve been around people all year long,” Cockrell. “It almost defeats the purpose. We want to finish the year off as strong as possible.”
According to DESE about 98 percent of school districts across the state are offering some type of in-person or hybrid learning. Cockrell said if teachers could get vaccinated, teachers, parents and students could have more confidence to return to school.
“I think the sooner we are able to get vaccinated, the sooner some of these kids can get back in school and the more confidence we have as teachers to teach the way that we want to,” Cockrell said.
Cockrell said the pandemic has reminded people how important teachers are.
“I think when parents either had to teach or be home with their kids’ full time, they understood the stuff we have to deal with, what we have to go through,” Cockrell said. “The silver lining made people understand how valued we are and how valued we should be and I hope the state sees that as well and get these shots out.”
Williams has previously said he hopes tier 3 will become eligible next month, pending the John and Johnson vaccine receives emergency use authorization.
Gov. Parson responded to the letter with the following statement:
We are doing everything we can to vaccinate as many Missourians as quickly as possible, and we look forward to the day when supply increases to the point where we can vaccinate our teachers. Right now, Missouri must remain committed to protecting the more than 3 million senior citizens, health care providers, first responders, and those with underlying health conditions who are currently eligible for the vaccine. It is critical that we prioritize those most vulnerable with the limited amount of vaccine currently available. Recent CDC reports indicate that COVID-19 transmission in schools is low and in-person learning does not commonly increase community spread. In Missouri, we have seen that with proper COVID-19 preventive measures in place, schools offer a controlled and structured environment that is unlikely to increase the risk of students or teachers contracting COVID-19. We remain hard at work to achieve our goal of providing the COVID-19 vaccine to EVERY Missourian who wants it as soon as possible.