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Oklahoma Teachers Lower Priority for COVID Vaccine Than Anticipated as Youth Infections Spike

KWGS News File Photo

Despite Gov. Kevin Stitt telling schools he wants all students back in their classrooms after winter break, teachers are in the third of four phases in Oklahoma’s COVID-19 vaccination plan.

Many education officials expected they would be a higher priority, considering the push to have all kids back in school as soon as possible. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister told district officials in a coronavirus update last week that nearly 70% of the state’s then-almost 30,000 active cases were among kids 5 to 17 years old.

That presents a risky scenario for unvaccinated teachers.

"It is a powerful reminder that while the vast majority of children with COVID are asymptomatic and bounce back, kids do get the virus and they do transmit it," Hofmeister said.

In a work session last week before the vaccination plan was released, Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist told the Tulsa Public Schools Board her conversations with State Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye indicated teachers are considered essential workers.

"For me, that means they should be designated as such when it comes to the vaccine as well, and I am hopeful and perhaps even confident that the state will follow through on that. And we will continue advocating for that," Gist said.

Gist told the board she knows logistics also play a role in who gets vaccinated and when. Pfizer’s COVID vaccine must be stored at -70 degrees Celsius, requiring special freezers or dry ice.

Health care workers with high risk of exposure to COVID-19 and nursing home residents and staff make up a group of about 115,000 people first in line for the vaccine. Other health care workers, first responders, adults 65 and older, prison staff and government leaders are in the second group.

The state expects 33,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine within the week and another 10,000 doses of Moderna's vaccine in the near future.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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