ATLANTA, Ga. (WTOC) - Teachers and school staff in Georgia, along with a group of “medically fragile” residents, will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in early March.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp made the announcement on Thursday from the State Capitol.
Pre-K through 12th grade educators and staff (includes public and private schools), adults with intellectual and development disabilities and their caregivers, and parents of children with complex medical conditions have been added to the list of those eligible to get the COVID vaccine in Georgia.
This expanded phase of COVID vaccine distribution will begin on March 8.
The president of the Savannah Federation of Teachers, which has more than 500 members, said all teachers being eligible for the vaccine is a gamechanger.
In Chatham County, nurses with the school district have been working alongside other health care professionals to administer vaccines, in part to prepare for the time when teachers were added to the list. And for teachers who fell under the previous eligibility category, they have been getting the vaccine.
But for those in schools who are eligible in early March, who weren’t previously eligible, the Savannah Federation of Teachers president said having access to the vaccine will likely put some minds at ease.
“This is huge, I must say, for the peace of mind of teachers and classified workers who are already in those buildings. Knowing that they have a safety belt of something extra besides the mask and following the proper protocols that they put in place, following the CDC guidelines. But this is an extra, extra safety belt for them to know that hey, I’m safe,” President Theresa Watson said.
A Savannah-Chatham County School Board member said she’s excited about the work the school district has been doing in anticipation of this announcement. She points out school nurses have already been training in how to administer the vaccine to those eligible, and the district has already coordinated a vaccine clinic for school system employees who have qualified under previous phase.
“I think this is something that we all have been hoping for, for quite a long time. Ever since we found we had a vaccine and its effectiveness. And I think it’s just a really important step forward to being able to hopefully return to a sense of normalcy for our students, for our teachers, for our families and for our community,” District 1 School Board member Denise Grabowski said.
The Savannah-Chatham County Public School System released the following statement after Gov. Kemp’s announcement:
“SCCPSS welcomes Governor Kemp’s announcement today that educators and staff will be eligible for Coronavirus vaccinations in early March. The District has continued to work closely with the Coastal Health District in anticipation of this announcement and maintains open dialogue with other area partners. SCCPSS has developed a framework for an effective vaccination process based on recent clinics that were organized under the existing Phase 1a+. These processes have included the expertise of our school nursing staff who are trained and ready to participate in future vaccination events. Once details have been finalized and District coordinated venues become available, information will be shared with our employees.”
In Evans County, the superintendent says only about 20 percent of teachers and staff already qualified for the previous category. This helps the other 80 percent who could have been waiting for later groups.
Superintendent Dr. Marty Waters says this helps protect those educators already teaching in in-person classrooms. He hopes it helps more districts safety move back to in-person learning while protecting educators.
“Again, it’s another step to allow our faculty and staff who wish to take the vaccine to feel more secure in their role. We’re going to continue our mitigation factors. We’re going to continue to mandate masks, continue to social distance as much as possibly can,” Dr. Waters said.
He points out that this announcement simply allows teachers and staff to register for the vaccine and get on waiting lists. It doesn’t necessarily move them to the front of the line.
Dr. Waters says he’s already been in touch with Evans Memorial Hospital and other local health care providers to see what they can do to help make this happen.
A statement from State School Superintendent Richard Woods on vaccine priority for teachers and school staff:
“I am thrilled that, now that vaccine supply has increased, Georgia is expanding vaccine eligibility, meaning Georgia teachers and school staff are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine beginning March 8. This is an important step in ensuring all Georgia students have access to in-person instruction and ensuring the safety of students, staff, and families. It has been an incredibly challenging year for educators and families alike, but I believe we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. As an educator, I am grateful for the hard work of the scientists who created and tested this vaccine. I appreciate Governor Kemp including teachers in the priority phases of vaccine administration and expanding eligibility as soon as healthcare workers, first responders, and seniors had the opportunity to be vaccinated.”