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New Hampshire teachers await their turn for COVID-19 vaccination

Concord Monitor
Published: 12/17/2020 9:38:22 PM
Modified: 12/17/2020 9:38:11 PM

This week, more and more schools across New Hampshire pivoted to remote learning due to positive cases of COVID-19 in their buildings and low staffing numbers as a result of the need to quarantine. Cases continue to rise, impacting the ability of schools to stay open.

One sign of hope for educators however, is the first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine that arrived in New Hampshire this week. Distribution to high-risk health workers and first-responders as part of Phase 1 has already begun.

“Today there is a ray of hope for me, as my wife went off to work to help start distributing vaccines,” Bow-Dunbarton Superintendent Dean Cascadden wrote in a message to district families Wednesday. “We know that we will have a tough winter season, but there is hope that things will improve.”

But how soon? Depending on the number of doses New Hampshire receives, school employees could be protected before the end of the school year.

School nurses are given an even higher priority. School health staff are among the high-risk workers who will be vaccinated first, along with hospital and other health care employees, according to New Hampshire’s vaccination allocation guidelines. But for teachers and other school support staff, when exactly they will receive their shots is less clear.

The state’s vaccination draft plan, a living document that was released in October, has K-12 teachers and school staff listed in Phase 2, along with other essential workers and those who live and work in homeless shelters, group homes and prisons. But much about the timeline of vaccine distribution in New Hampshire remains unknown.

Megan Tuttle, president of the National Education Association of New Hampshire, said teachers should be prioritized to receive the vaccine early along with other essential workers, either at the end of Phase 1 or at the beginning of Phase 2.

“We are considered essential workers and definitely think they should be a priority to get the vaccine,” Tuttle said.

But planning the rest of the school year is difficult for educators, since the start date of Phase 2 is undefined. Vaccine production or shipping challenges could lead to a slower rollout, but the approval of another vaccine, like one from Moderna up for review this week, could speed up the timeline. For the average Granite Stater, the Department of Health and Human Services predicts a vaccine will be available in six to 12 months — a wide date range.

Tuttle said she hopes teachers will be vaccinated before the end of the school year, to start the process of school reopening.

“We need to get back in the schools, but we need to do it safely,” Tuttle said. “The remote and hybrid are not the ideal situation, so we want to be back in classrooms and the sooner we can do that the better, not just for educators but for parents, families, etc.”

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