BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — President Joe Biden said all school staff should be vaccinated by the end of the month.
“We want every educator, school staff member, childcare worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March,” he said.
Biden said he's directing states to prioritize teacher vaccination. He added that fully vaccinating school staff is not required for reopening if other guidance is followed.
Teachers are already eligible in New York, but nearly two months into Phase 1b, Buffalo Teacher Federation President Phil Rumore said teachers are struggling to get vaccine appointments.
“It’s nice that they have designated teachers as essential, but what good is it if you can't get the vaccine,” Rumore said.
Rumore and Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash agree that schools should be used as vaccination sites. In a school board work session Wednesday night, Cash said schools would serve as good sites due to their central locations in communities, nursing staff, transportation, and refrigeration.
Cash said the schools would vaccinate both school staff and the community.
“We’ve got everything it takes to do this and get it done in just a matter of weeks, and we would beat the target by the end of, certainly by the end of May we could get this done,” Cash said.
The district did not have vaccination numbers when 7 Eyewitness News asked. Rumore said the union is not tracking vaccination of its members, but many he's spoken to are voluntarily alerting the district when they've received the vaccine.
In Niagara Falls, Superintendent Mark Laurrie said 150 district staff members were vaccinated Wednesday, around 12% of the district's approximately 1,200 staff.
Laurrie said Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center used the school district's facilities for the vaccinations.
He said it was not only for teachers, but slots were mainly filled by district staff.
“This was a really, really big day, and it’s March 3rd," he said. "If the flow of vaccine continues the way it came today, then I think it’s a possible outcome, but it’s all dependent on the supply chain."
Niagara County Public Health Director Dan Stapleton said the county regularly lets districts know when appointments are opening, but they fill up fast. He said there are no plans to conduct teacher only clinics.
“We've been pushing for that coordinated effort that you say, and an example of that would be today," Laurrie said. "If we just had six or seven days of just school staff, we could knock off our whole district.”
The district does not track vaccination, but Laurrie estimates about 30% of staff have received the vaccine.
"We're encouraging, we're supporting, but we're not counting the number or who," he said.
A February executive order would required districts to report teacher vaccination numbers to the New York State Department of Health, it was replaced a few days later with an executive order directing the local health department to report those numbers instead.
“I said last week, local governments must report on how many teachers are vaccinated, and coordinate with the school districts to report how many teachers are in the classroom," Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.
NYSDOH said it's working with counties to finalize the collection of that data. Both the Erie and Niagara County Health Departments said they don't have information on teacher vaccination rates.
Rumore, Laurrie, and Cash said all school staff, not just teachers, need to receive the vaccine to have equity.
Below is a statement from the statewide teacher's union regarding Biden's announcement.
“New York has rightfully prioritized education professionals as part of the 1b vaccination group, and if the federal government’s new push can help get vaccines to educators seeking one sooner, that would be welcome. The vaccine is one piece of the larger safety strategy for our schools, including mask wearing, proper social distancing and COVID testing. It’s essential we stay the course on implementing comprehensive safety plans that include multiple layers of protection.”