By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – State Superintendent Eric Mackey said teachers could start getting a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as the end of February with a more extensive rollout likely in March.
But, the rate of distribution and the two-doses requirement will likely mean most public school employees won’t be fully vaccinated until the end of the semester, Mackey said.
“We won’t have our teachers vaccinated and immunized until through this whole semester, hopefully by summer, but not likely to be done by the end of this school year,” Mackey told state board of education members on Thursday.
Alabama is set to start the 1B phase of its vaccination plan next week. It allows Alabamians 75 and older and first responders, like law enforcement and firefighters, to receive available vaccines. Teachers and school employees are also part of the 1B grouping, but are prioritized after the elderly and first responders.
Mackey said the state department will not require teachers to get the vaccine to return to in-person teaching, but local school boards could pass their own vaccination requirements.
The Alabama Association of School Boards told ADN that it is not aware of any school boards considering a vaccine mandate at this time.
Mackey said he is concerned about the pace of the vaccine rollout but believes the Department of Public Health is doing everything it can to speed the process.
“Public Health is able to work through the issues and they’re getting the vaccine out, it’s just there is literally not enough vaccine to cover the people in 1A and 1B,” Mackey said. “It’s mostly a supply chain and production problem.”
So far Alabama has distributed 87,128 doses out of the over 271,000 doses allotted to Alabama, according to ADPH vaccine distribution dashboard.
Marion and Tallapoosa counties have already started vaccinating some teachers after they had distributed vaccines to others in priority groups, but Mackey said only about 50% of teachers are choosing to be vaccinated in those counties.
COVID-19 cases have increased in recent weeks and Mackey said he thinks the next three months will be very difficult for K-12 students as more schools return to only online instruction.
“I think the next three months are going to be critical,” Mackey said. “It’s going to be very hard to keep all of our schools open to in-person instruction but we’re going to do the best we can.”
The department is still set to give its statewide standardized test this spring but whether all students have to take it will depend on possible waivers from President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, Mackey said.
Superintendents have told Mackey that they are seeing a significant decline in grades this school year, but it is currently unknown how much learning loss Alabama students are suffering.