“I think that we should be vaccinating teachers. We should move them up in the hierarchy,” he said.
Later, responding to a question from a high school teacher on how schools can safely reopen and whether school staff should be vaccinated before returning to class, Biden said officials are not suggesting large classes to resume at this time, urging instead for “smaller classes, more ventilation, making sure that everybody has masks and is socially distanced.”
“Making sure that everyone from the sanitation workers.. (and those that) do all the maintenance, that they are in fact able to be protected as well,” Biden said. “Making sure you’re in a situation where you don’t have the congregation of a lot of people … including the school bus.”
“So it’s about needing to be able to socially distance, smaller classes, more protection, and I think that teachers and the folks who work in the school … should be on the list of preferred to get a vaccination.”
Teacher vaccinations and school reopenings were among questions spanning a range of subjects that Biden fielded in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in his first town hall since becoming President.
His comments come amid an ongoing national debate on what the safest way to reopen schools is — and how to best protect educators and staff who are returning to in-person instruction.
So far, 28 states plus Washington, DC, have started allowing all or some teachers and school staff to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. Teachers are still not eligible to receive the vaccine as a specific group in 22 states — although some educators might fall into the current age group a state is vaccinating.
And some experts have been at odds about how big of a priority vaccines are when it comes to returning to class.
In its school reopening guidelines released last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined five key Covid-19 mitigation strategies including the universal and correct wearing of masks; physical distancing; washing hands; cleaning facilities and improving ventilation; and contact tracing, isolation and quarantine.
Vaccines and testing were not among the “key” strategies the agency lays out, but rather “additional layers” of Covid-19 prevention.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told CNN earlier this week that while she’s a “strong advocate of teachers receiving their vaccine,” the agency doesn’t believe it’s a prerequisite for schools to be able to reopen.
But CDC guidance does specify that those who are at a higher risk should have virtual options, the director added.
“We have in the guidance clear language that specifies that teachers that are at higher risk — teachers and students that are higher risk, and their families — should have options for virtual activities, virtual learning, virtual teaching,” Walensky said.
Another expert, emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen, called teacher vaccinations “essential.”
“If we want students to be in school for in-person learning, the least that we can do is to protect the health and well-being of our teachers — especially as in so many parts of the country, teachers are already being made to go back to school in poorly-ventilated, cramped areas, with many students who may not always be masking and practicing physical distancing,” Wen told CNN on Sunday.