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Teachers don’t have to be vaccinated for schools to reopen safely, CDC director says

The issues is a key sticking point over reopening schools, with the Chicago Teachers Union saying all staff should be offered a shot before being required to work in person.

In this image from video, Jeff Zients, White House coronavirus response coordinator, speaks as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the president., Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, chair of the COVID-19 health equity task force, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House COVID-19 Response Team,, appear on screen during a White House briefing on the Biden administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Washington.
AP

WASHINGTON — The director of the CDC says schools can safely reopen even if teachers are not vaccinated for the coronavirus.

As the Chicago Teachers Union and others around the country balk at resuming in-person instruction before teachers are inoculated, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a COVID news briefing Wednesday the “vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools.” Walensky cited CDC data showing that social distancing and wearing a mask significantly reduce the spread of the virus in school settings.

Later, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said despite Walensky’s comments, the CDC “has not released their official guidance yet” on vaccinating teachers and school reopenings. She said prioritizing teachers for vaccines is important to President Joe Biden.

Vaccinations have become a key sticking point in negotiations between Chicago Public Schools officials and CTU.

The union has taken a bargaining position that the district must “offer all staff opportunity to be fully vaccinated before [being] required to return in-person,” according to a “bargaining movement chart” posted to its website.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey has said CPS might get about 1,000 shots for staff each week, but the CTU was asking for more.

The city’s public health director, Dr. Alison Arwady, said Tuesday the number of shots that should be allocated to CPS workers is currently under negotiation, but declined to say what number is being discussed.

“We are definitely allocating, even over-allocating, vaccine to that group, recognizing how important it is to get Chicago back to school,” she said.

White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients called on Congress to pass additional funding to ensure schools have the resources necessary to support reopening.

He said at the news briefing that Biden has been “very clear” that he wants schools to “reopen and to stay open.”

“That means every school has the equipment and the resources to open safely,” he said. He said Congress should pass Biden’s COVID rescue plan. “Not just private schools or schools in wealthy areas but all schools.”

Biden has pledged to ensure nearly all K-8 schools will reopen for in-person instruction in the first 100 days of his administration.

Teachers are prioritized as “essential workers” under the CDC’s vaccination plans, though many have yet to receive doses as the nation continues to face a supply shortage of the vaccine.

Contributing: Associated Press