TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The pressure is mounting as more teachers want Gov. Ron DeSantis to make them a priority for the COVID-19 vaccine. State officials, however, maintain they are focused on those 65 and older, giving little indication Wednesday as to who comes next.
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In the Senate's Health Policy committee, Florida's Surgeon General Scott Rivkees told lawmakers that seniors will stay the priority, for now. They make up 85% of the state's COVID deaths.
"We are in a supply-limited situation," Rivkees said. "Hopefully as more vaccine becomes available, hopefully as more manufactures are able to get EUA approval, we can move beyond this group."
The governor has previously said teachers won't be a priority. His executive order targets the most vulnerable and has the backing of some medical experts.
University of Florida Health Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Fred Southwick hasn't agreed with the governor's lax mitigation methods but said he's with DeSantis on the current vaccine hierarchy.
"What I would aim for is to reduce the number of deaths," Southwick said. "I don't want anyone to get the message that they don’t deserve the vaccine. It's just a matter of priorities and who is most vulnerable and who is most likely to die."
New research in the last month supports lower priority for teachers. Two national studies suggest schools can operate safely, with precautions, as long as community spread isn't too high.
Tulane’s specifically found no evidence reopening in-person or hybrid increased hospitalizations for communities already low.
Florida's Education Association, however, is undeterred. Andrew Spar, the president of the teacher's union, said prioritizing educators and staff would ensure a return to normality.
"COVID cases are not just going up in our communities, they’re going up significantly in our schools," Spar said. "Other states have already done it. The governor is one of the few saying, 'I'm not going to prioritize those on the front lines.'"
Spar said he was hopeful the incoming Biden administration would prioritize teachers as the president-elect has promised to increase supply.