(WXYZ) — School leaders around metro Detroit are sending out the message that they want to make sure teachers stay close to the top of the priority list as vaccine distribution continues.
The state says the plan is to follow CDC guidelines. That means the first people to be vaccinated will be health care workers, EMS and long- term care facility workers. The next group includes teachers and other essential workers.
“I really think teachers should be high on that list, higher than professional athletes or other people who seem to have access in certain situations,” said Dr. Steve Matthews, Novi Public Schools Superintendent.
Dr. Matthews and other school leaders say it is hard to keep schools open as workers find themselves quarantined or sick. L’anse Creuse Public Schools had to shut down all in-person learning for two weeks around Thanksgiving due to a lack of staff.
“I think a vaccine is really, really critical to making sure these disruptions don’t continue, and we can get back to one hundred percent of what we can give to our students,” said Eric Edoff, L'Anse Creuse Public Schools Superintendent.
Public health leaders agree with school leaders that vaccinating teachers is important. They also are working to educate the public so that expectations are realistic. The vaccine will help, but will not be a complete or fast solution for schools operating in a pandemic. Doctors are still learning more about how it will impact schools.
“The information we have on the virus is being updated literally on a daily basis,” said Russell Faust M.D., PhD, Medical Director Oakland County Health Division.
“The main thing people need to understand is what the vaccine will do and what it won’t do,” said Dr. Leonard Johnson, Program Director and Chief of Infectious Diseases Division at Ascension St. John Hospital.
Both say they have seen overwhelming evidence the new Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective at preventing severe illness. They say it is designed to help your body attack the virus as it starts to spread within your body. There are still questions about how fast that happens. For example, if you are exposed to the virus, could you have active virus in your nasal cavity and spread it before your immune system gets a chance to stop it?
Doctors say there are studies that have found that people with more severe symptoms are more contagious, but they have not specifically determined how contagious people who have received the vaccine could be.
“They were testing whether it was safe and whether it was effective,” said Dr. Faust of the studies done at this point on the Pfizer vaccine. “What it didn’t do was look downstream at whether the virus prevented you, if you did become infected, from transmitting it to someone else.”
He says studies will be done looking at that. Studies also need to be done on how effective the vaccine remains over time. There are only a few months of data available, as it is so new.
“What we need to understand is that just because people are getting vaccinated doesn’t mean masks can come off. Because we don’t know if people can get infected at a low level and carry the virus to others,” Dr. Johnson said.
They both say while researchers learn more, the public is going to be asked to continue taking preventative measures such as social distancing, mask-wearing, and avoiding large gatherings.
School leaders say they are focusing on what it will mean for staff to feel and be more protected from severe illness as a start. While it will not immediately lead to a return to school as we knew it before the pandemic, it will alleviate some challenges.
“Protecting our staff makes it so we can run schools with as many staff members as possible,” Edoff said.
Dr. Matthews adding, “I think them having a vaccine will give them confidence that they are protected."
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