After four months of administering vaccines in Missouri, Phase 1B Tier 3 has opened up, providing COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to workers in childcare, government, information technology, nuclear reactors, materials, waste, transportation system, water and wastewater systems, communications sector, dams sector, energy sector and the food and agriculture sector,
As the eligibility opened March 6, educators were included in this list, but priority was only given to K-12 teachers, excluding higher education instructors and professors.
Jessica Piper, an English teacher at Maryville High School, received her COVID-19 vaccine soon after Tier 3 opened up. She said she feels a major relief but still thinks teachers should have been higher on the list for vaccines.
“I feel much safer now,” Piper said. “I feel invincible at this point, but I think that if the schools were priority to open, we should have been a priority for vaccinations.”
MHS has held in-person classes since the beginning of the school year, but there was no access to the vaccine for teachers until nearing the end of March, three months out from summer break. Piper attended National Education Association rallies in Kansas City, Missouri, to protest the start of schools opening before they were able to open safely. Despite her opposition, she still went back to teach in-person classes.
After receiving her COVID-19 vaccine, Piper is more comfortable than she was in the beginning of the year, when cases were on the rise and she had to rely on a mask and 6 feet of space to protect her from the virus.
“It put me on edge, and it was upsetting,” Piper said. “I already feel so much better knowing that I am vaccinated. It makes working in a school a lot easier.”
Janet Smith, a sixth grade reading teacher at Maryville Middle School, is feeling the same relief as Piper when it comes to the vaccine eligibility.
In her sixth grade wing, most of her colleagues have also been vaccinated, and they are all feeling more at ease. Smith said that it would have been nice to have educators higher on the tiers for vaccinations, but she finds it difficult to decide who should be prioritized.
Adam Bochart, a mass media instructor at Northwest, was not included in the educator vaccination eligibility due to being in higher education. This separation didn’t make sense, Bochart said.
He noticed early on the rising positive COVID-19 cases in college-aged populations throughout the last year. This trend held steady during a local rise of COVID-19 cases at Northwest in the fall semester.
“There are spikes on college campuses; it’s a no-brainer and almost to be expected,” Bochart said. “It is a lot more likely that they’re going to get it and spread it, so I think it would have made a lot more sense to include higher ed in that.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices released a recommendation for allocating the vaccines available and placed educators in Phase 1B, but didn’t go into detail on tiers. Missouri seemed to follow their suggestion, but it was up to the state’s discretion on who they chose to put into what categories.
“It’s almost like the upper parts of our government, at least state-wide, don’t value higher education,” Bochart said. “I hate to think that it is political in getting K-12 kids back to class, but if you look at where the spikes are and where college campuses are, college kids are going to be getting out more.”
Despite not being pleased with the state excluding professors and instructors from the priority list, Bochart said getting the vaccine would ease any discomfort that comes with teaching in-person classes.
“The vaccine has given me a peace of mind. I’m just disappointed in Missouri that they weren’t able to prioritize us,” Bochart said.
Luke Rolfes, a language, literature and writing instructor at Northwest, said that after thinking about it, he doesn’t know if he could have prioritized people if he had to do it himself.
“Trying to do that with six million people is always going to be super messy,” Rolfes said. “I wish teachers would have been higher in general, just because the occupation is high risk, but I also think there were a lot of other jobs that were high risk.”
After being online for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year and over the summer, coming back to in-person classes in fall 2020 made many uneasy. Rolfes said he could see K-12 ranking higher on the list because they likely have more face-to-face contact with students, but he would have liked to see higher education included with the other educators.
“That puts us at a similar risk as the high schools,” Rolfes said. “I still think of myself as a teacher; I still work in education, and we are all in the same pool. I know this is an impossible situation and there are a ton of people who need the vaccine.”
“I feel like if I were still virtual, I would feel less need to be vaccinated, but since we are face-to-face, my need to be vaccinated is very, very high,” Rolfes said. “I just hope we all get it as soon as we can.”
Though there was a divide in who was able to receive the vaccine, eligibility to the general population opens April 9. According to the Missouri COVID-19 dashboard, Nodaway County has administered more than 8,500 doses and around 23% of the county has been vaccinated.
“We are lucky we are in a rural area because I have a lot of friends in Kansas City and St. Louis and they aren’t able to get the vaccine like we are in these tiny towns,” Piper said. “I feel lucky that I was able to get one and that things are starting to get back to normal.”