Teachers, school staff and childcare workers across the Lone Star State got a dose of good news Wednesday when the Department of State Health Services announced all three groups are now eligible to get coronavirus vaccines. The shift in vaccine policy came at the behest of President Joe Biden, who also called out Gov. Greg Abbott for lifting Texas' mask mandate.
The state health department outlined the policy shift in a letter sent out to Texan vaccine providers on Wednesday. The move was made after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a memo Tuesday night instructing every state that hadn’t already prioritized doses for K-12 school staff, preschool workers and folks in the childcare business to do so immediately.
One day after Abbott announced the end of Texas’ statewide public masking mandate and pandemic-inspired business restrictions, the Texas Education Agency told state school districts that it’ll be up to each individual district whether or not to keep enforcing mask use.
“Local school boards have full authority to determine their local mask policy,” the TEA’s Wednesday announcement read.
President Joe Biden chastised Abbott on Wednesday for deciding to nix Texas’ mask requirement, claiming it was the type of decision you’d expect from a caveman. “I think it’s a big mistake. Masks make a difference… the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking,” Biden said.
On Tuesday, Biden said he hopes all teachers in the country can get at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot before April. “Not every educator will be able to get their appointment in the first week,” he said, “but our goal is to do everything we can to help every educator receive a shot this month, the month of March.”
In that same speech, Biden announced that based on new production estimates and the recently approved one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, he expects all adults in the United States to be able to get vaccinated “by the end of May.”
Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina celebrated the news about vaccine eligibility for teachers, and specifically thanked Biden “for acting where Gov. Abbott had failed” due to Abbott’s unwillingness to bump-up educators on the eligibility list before the feds forced his hand.
Prior to Wednesday’s policy shift, the only Texans who qualified for coronavirus vaccines were frontline healthcare workers, those 65 or older and anyone over 16 with a chronic health condition that would put them at risk for a severe bout of COVID-19.
Molina also highlighted an announcement from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that “ordered pharmacies participating in the vaccination program to reserve unfilled vaccination slots for school employees and child care workers for the remainder of March.”
“This is a big win for educators, and it also is a win for their students and their families because it will help to make our school buildings and communities safer,” Molina said.
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