BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A day after coronavirus vaccinations began, Louisiana's education superintendent said Tuesday he's asked Gov. John Bel Edwards and state health leaders to prioritize childcare workers and school teachers, staff and bus drivers when divvying up future vaccine shipments.
Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said the estimated 166,000 employees at Louisiana's daycare centers, pre-K programs and K-12 schools are frontline workers who are essential to the functioning of the state.
“Keeping schools open with face-to-face instruction is critical not only for students, but also for parents and guardians who are struggling to balance staying at home with their children and meaningful employment," Brumley wrote in a Dec. 11 letter to Health Secretary Courtney Phillips that was also sent to Edwards.
The superintendent discussed the letter at a state education board meeting Tuesday, and his spokesperson released it to The Associated Press.
Louisiana started coronavirus immunizations Monday at hospitals with the Pfizer vaccine, focused on health care workers who regularly encounter patients with the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus. More hospitals around the state began delivering shots to their employees Tuesday. Dr. Joe Kanter, Louisiana's top public health official, was among those vaccinated Tuesday.
Next up for vaccines are people who live and work at nursing homes, state-run veterans homes and long-term care facilities. Edwards said he anticipates those facilities will begin receiving the Moderna vaccine the week of Dec. 28, if Moderna receives federal approval as expected.
Those first groups include an estimated 208,000 people — and will exceed the number of vaccine doses Louisiana expects to receive this month.
Who's in line after those vaccinations are complete — which require two doses several weeks apart — is uncertain. Widespread availability of the vaccine for most people remains months away.
A draft report the Louisiana Department of Health submitted to federal officials in mid-October outlined who could be in the second phase of the state's vaccine distribution. But it was a long list that contained hundreds of thousands of people, including K-12 teachers and staff and childcare workers. It also included prisoners and their guards, older adults and people with health conditions that put them at greater risk of severe impacts from COVID-19.
Edwards has said “to the maximum degree possible” he intends to follow the recommendations of a panel of scientific experts that advises the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's the guidance Louisiana used to establish the first vaccine recipients.
The advisory group hasn't set its second phase guidance yet.
Edwards spokesperson Christina Stephens said the Democratic governor expects that teachers and childcare workers will be included in “one of the priority groups” before the vaccine is available to everyone. But she repeated that Edwards is waiting for the federal panel's guidance.
“The governor is deeply appreciative of the work of all teachers and child care workers and knows that keeping schools open safely is a key part of Louisiana’s health care system functioning properly and ensuring our economy fully recovers” Stephens said in a statement.
Phillips, the health secretary, issued a similar response — and added that her agency has “received many similar letters from many different entities” seeking to move to the front of the line.
Louisiana is in its third surge of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations since the state’s outbreak began in March. Nearly 6,600 COVID-19 deaths have been confirmed by the state health department.
Brumley spoke of his request at a meeting Tuesday of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, whose members supported prioritizing childcare and school employees for early access to the vaccine. Tony Davis, board vice president, said education workers are “a great population of folks that are taking that risk, being that brave.”
Brumley said 65% of Louisiana's K-12 schools, both public and private, are providing in-person instruction to students five days a week, while 20% are holding virtual classes only and 15% are offering a hybrid mix of in-person and online coursework.
Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak. Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.