Rep. Hudson, County leaders fighting for vaccinations for teachers
CABARRUS COUNTY — Congressman Richard Hudson was very clear during his visit to the County’s mass vaccination site Tuesday morning: he wants teachers to receive their vaccinations.
“It’s a real priority to get our teachers vaccinated,” Rep. Hudson (NC-08) said after taking a tour of the vaccination site at the Cabarrus Arena. “I’ve been pushing for it on the federal level, we’ve said it’s a priority, the Governor, it’s up to him on how he prioritizes them in the distribution here.”
Rep. Hudson has already played a part in helping out the vaccination process in Cabarrus County. After Cabarrus Health Alliance Health Director Dr. Bonnie Coyle told him they were only getting about one week’s worth of warning about how much vaccine they would be getting, Rep. Hudson made a point to try to help. Now, the County has three weeks advanced knowledge of what they will be getting.
He credited Dr. Coyle with letting him know the issue at hand because if he doesn’t know there is an issue he will have trouble helping. The same goes for vaccines for teachers. Dr. Coyle has made it clear to Rep. Hudson teachers in the County need to be vaccinated and the Congressman is going to do what he can to help get it done.
“We’re working through the process now to try to identify money that we can move into vaccinating teachers and I’m hoping it gets bipartisan support to do that,” he said.
Pushing for vaccines
Dr. Coyle has not been the only person locally who has been emphasizing the need to get teachers vaccinated in recent months. Just Monday night Cabarrus County Schools teachers demonstrated outside of the Education Center chanting “Five-six-seven-eight, not until we vaccinate.”
CCS will move into Governor Roy Cooper’s Plan A for the first time this school year starting Feb. 16 in Pre-K through third grade. This move will make socially distancing more difficult in elementary school classrooms across the district as there is no limit on classroom capacity under the Governor’s Plan A.
Teachers have demonstrated before the last three School Board meetings asking for vaccinations prior to going back into the classroom.
But advocation has not just come from Cabarrus County. Kannapolis City Schools Superintendent Chip Buckwell was adamant about getting teachers vaccinated at the district’s School Board Meeting on Monday as well.
“I also want the students, staff, board and community to know I have and will continue to advocate for K-12 staff to be vaccinated as soon as possible and to prioritize those vaccinations,” he said.
CHA’s Erin Shoe was also pointed in her comments about getting staff members immunized when she spoke to the Cabarrus County School Board on Monday.
“As you are advocating amongst your channels we ask that you also support being able to move educators either up into Group 2 or let’s go and get into Group 3,” she said. “Of course, the challenge is the vaccine inventory is limited, so there’s a balance that we have to find there.”
According to CHA, an estimated 200 CCS staff members have been immunized so far. That is out of 2,479. The number is not nearly as high as teachers would want as Plan A is less than a week away for some.
But North Carolina state guidelines have teachers in Group 3 on the immunization list. The state is currently working to provide vaccines to Groups 1 and 2 which includes healthcare workers and anyone 65 years or older.
The limited demographics allowed to receive a vaccine has led to a log jam of people waiting to be immunized. According to CHA, the wait list to receive one is 9,000 in Cabarrus County and that counts teachers, County residents, and even individuals from outside the County as state guidelines will not allow CHA to turn away someone looking for a vaccine if they live outside of Cabarrus.
The backlog of those on the wait list, the limited supply of vaccines, and the groups allowed to receive immunizations makes CHA’s job challenging.
“We would love to move on to additional groups yet we are trying to protect those at highest risk which is that 65 and older age group and healthcare workers,” Dr. Coyle said at Monday’s School Board meeting. “And when you’re getting a limited supply of vaccine you want to keep focusing it on those who are at highest risk of severe illness and death.”
The state hasn’t helped things either. In recent weeks CHA actually had a day in which it was not able to hold a first-dose clinic. North Carolina did not give the County any doses of the first shot between Jan. 24 and Jan. 30, so CHA had to wait. Around that time North Carolina ranked 49th out of 50 in the state in vaccinations.
Things have gotten better since as it has moved up to 12th and CHA also has that additional two weeks of warning as to how much vaccine it will be getting, but to say things have run smoothly in the state from start to finish would be wrong.
CHA is proud of the work it has done and Dr. Coyle couldn’t say enough about the staff members who have helped run the mass vaccination sites — half of which volunteered to do so — but the work has not been easy.
What about other Counties?
What appeared to be easy for other Counties like Union was vaccinating teachers. At the end of January they were able to administer a first dose of vaccine to school employees which made other Counties question why their employers haven’t done the same.
But according to Dr. Coyle and Erin Shoe there were unique circumstances behind these incidences. Counties such as Union, Rutherford and Swain had already set up mass vaccination events for their teachers when initially, school staff was included in early vaccine groups.
They set up their events and appointments to go along with them. Then, when the state changed those guidelines and put teachers in Group 3, the state allowed the events to go on because those appointments had already been set up and they didn’t want to force these districts to go back on their word of distributing vaccines.
Cabarrus County is going by state guidelines when it comes to administering vaccines. To have teachers jump the line at this point could put the County on a kind of “naughty list” which could draw the ire of the state, according to Shoe.
How can the Congressman help?
It may seem like a stretch for one Representative in the House to make a difference in vaccinations in one of several counties he represents, but as was shown by the ability to get more warning on the number of vaccines Cabarrus would be getting in recent weeks, an impact can be made.
Rep. Hudson hopes he will be able to convince others to allocate more money to vaccines in the coming weeks in Washington D.C.
“One of the things I can do, we’re having a markup Thursday and Friday in the Energy and Commerce Committee for the Democrats’ budget/COVID relief bill, and I’m going to be pushing for funds to be shifted to add to vaccinations for teachers,” he said.
The upcoming COVID-19 relief bill is expected to amount to $1.9 trillion. Not all of that is specifically allocated yet, according to Hudson. During the CARES Act last year there was money left over that states didn’t use for a while. Hudson hopes they’ll be able to tap into similar funding gaps and get it specifically to states so either — teachers can get their vaccinations, or, the vaccine process can move more quickly so the process for educators to get immunized will be expedited.
“$1.9 trillion, that’s how much we spend in two years of running the federal government,” Hudson said. “It’s so much money, and there’s a lot of things in there — I haven’t seen all the details yet, but they haven’t even released the whole bill — but from what I can see they’re spending a lot of money on things that aren’t directly COVID related.”
Getting back to school
Rep. Hudson wants to get teachers vaccinated, but he also wants students back in school. He was happy to see Gov. Cooper and newly elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt call a press conference last week to “urge” schools to go back to in-person learning.
He wants students back in school and getting teachers vaccinated will only make that safer and help get back to normal quicker.
“I believe kids need to be in school,” he said. “My son is in school at a private school he goes five days a week. The science backs up the fact that it’s safe to do that and then you look at the side effects of kids not being in school, I think we’re just scratching the surface of the problems whether it’s …mental health issues, obesity, whether it’s they’re falling behind in learning.
“Kids need to be in school, we need to do everything we can to get them in school quickly, and I’m going to try to get more resources for teachers to get vaccinated.”