- CDC Director Rochelle Walensky recently said that vaccinating teachers shouldn’t be a prerequisite for opening schools back up.
- Walensky’s comments come shortly after the CDC published a study that found that the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools is low when students and teachers wear masks at all times.
- The coronavirus infection rate in the US has dropped by more than 30% over the last two weeks.
While it would be nice to vaccinate the entire country en masse, a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine doses necessitates a more staggered approach. For this very reason, only select groups of people have been able to receive the vaccine, a list that includes healthcare workers, the elderly, and frontline essential workers like teachers and firefighters. As the coronavirus vaccine supply increases, states will eventually start making the vaccine available to everyone.
The vaccination strategy above certainly makes sense to the extent that you want to vaccinate people who have a high risk of experiencing severe COVID symptoms along with people who are more likely to be exposed and transmit the virus to others.
The prioritization schedule above comes from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a group that falls under the purview of the CDC. Still, the schedule is purely a recommendation and states are free to prioritize vaccinations in any manner they see fit.
In light of that, recent remarks from CDC Director Rochelle Walensky might impact the strategy some states have been using. Specifically, Walensky during a press briefing this week said that vaccinating teachers isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for schools re-opening.
I want to be very clear about schools, which is: Yes, ACIP has put teachers in the 1b category, the category of essential workers. But I also want to be clear that there is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely.
So while we are implementing the criteria of the Advisory Committee and of the state and local guidances to get vaccination across these eligible communities, I would also say that safe reopening of schools is not — that vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools
As to the data Walensky mentions, the CDC last week published a study of Wisconsin schools which found that when students and teachers wear masks, the risk of transmission is low. This, the study notes, “suggests that schools might be able to safely open with appropriate mitigation efforts in place.”
The study included more than 5,500 students and staff in K-12 schools. During the course of the study, 191 COVID-19 cases were reported from within the group. Of that total, only 3.7% of the COVID-19 cases were traced back to in-school transmission.
“Despite widespread community transmission,” the study notes, “COVID-19 incidence in schools conducting in-person instruction was 37% lower than that in the surrounding community.”