When the state in December rolled out initial plans for COVID-19 vaccinations, teachers were slated to be among the first Hoosiers – after front-line health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities – to get the shots.
That's changed, as the Indiana State Department of Health and county officials have shifted toward vaccinating older Hoosiers more susceptible to the worst effects of the coronavirus. Indiana residents 80 and older began receiving shots over the weekend, and the state announced Wednesday that those 70 and older can begin scheduling appointments to get the vaccine.
“In Indiana, age is the biggest contributor to death and severe disease,” Dr. Lindsay Weaver, the state health department's chief medical officer, said in a news conference last week.
The state's vaccination program appears to be off to an impressive start. The first to have received the shots in the age 80 and older group are praising the process. We trust state health officials will soon give educators information on how soon they can expect to receive the vaccine. The process they have established thus far seems to be delivering fast and effective results in vaccinating Hoosiers as quickly as possible.
“If teachers aren't essential workers, who is?” said Sandra Vohs, president of the Fort Wayne Education Association, which represents teachers in the Fort Wayne Community Schools district. “If we want schools open, teachers are essential to that. (We) don't want to bump anyone out of place, but we want to be added to the list.”
Allen County on Tuesday returned to red status, signifying a high level of virus spread nearly two weeks after local health officials lifted some restrictions on gatherings. Bars, restaurants and fitness centers must return to operating at 50% capacity with other safety protocols such as social distancing in place, and other gatherings and events are limited to 25 people.
The county's seven-day positivity rate for all COVID-19 tests was 15.24% Wednesday, about three times as high as health experts have recommended for reopening.
Positive COVID-19 cases among teachers and staff in Allen County schools also have recently risen.
There were 175 positive cases at FWCS on Jan. 4, state data show, and that rose to 183 a week later. Fort Wayne Community Schools has more than 28,000 students.
At Northwest Allen County Schools – which has about 7,900 students – cases rose by one to 31 over the same time period, and Southwest Allen County Schools cases stayed the same at 15.
SACS has about 7,700 students.
East Allen County Schools cases rose by two to 65 from Jan. 4 to Jan. 11, and the leader of the teachers union there said she is “sorely disappointed” teachers were moved from their original place in the vaccine line. EACS has about 9,900 students.
“We have been told for months that it is essential for districts to do all they can to open schools or keep them open for the sake of our students, our families, and our communities,” East Allen County Educators Association President Andra Kosmoski said in an email. “In doing so, school personnel has stepped up and continues to work harder than we have ever worked before to simultaneously provide in-person instruction and virtual instruction all while risking exposure to the coronavirus. If we are so essential, we should be treated as such and given priority for the vaccine.”
Asked about vaccines for teachers, the state health department responded Monday with a statement reiterating plans for older Hoosiers.
“Additional groups will be added as vaccine becomes more available,” the statement says.
That was repeated Wednesday, with Gov. Eric Holcomb saying, “We are moving forward with addressing the most at-risk population in the state of Indiana.
“We're trying to get to everyone as fast as we can, but we're starting with the most at-risk (residents),” he said.
The Allen County Department of Health began giving vaccinations Wednesday at Memorial Coliseum, and local officials said they hope to administer 800 shots per week.
Even then, it could still be months before vaccines are doled out to most of the population here.
Rachel Blakeman of the Community Research Institute at Purdue University Fort Wayne said, depending on how quickly vaccines are given, reaching many of the county's roughly 380,000 residents with both doses of the vaccine could take about a year.
The orderly and data-driven approach state health officials have established means the most vulnerable will be protected, and teachers and other essential workers should be in line right behind them.