Driven by an increase in vaccine shipments, states and cities are rapidly expanding eligibility for COVID-19 injections to teachers, Americans 55 and older, and other groups as the United States competes to fight the virus and reopen businesses and schools.
Arizona, Connecticut and Indiana have opened the line to the youngest age group. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are reserving the first doses of Johnson & Johnson’s new single-shot vaccine for teachers. And in Detroit, factory workers can get vaccinated starting this week, regardless of their age.
Giving the vaccine to teachers and other school personnel “will help protect our communities,” said Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf. “It is going to ease the burden on our parents and families. It’s going to get our schools back to teaching our kids. “
So far, the vaccination campaign against the outbreak that has killed more than half a million Americans has focused primarily on healthcare workers and older people.
Across the United States, politicians and school administrators have been pushing hard in recent weeks to reopen classrooms to prevent students from falling behind and to allow more parents to return to work rather than supervise their children’s education. But teachers have been reluctant to return unvaccinated.
Jody Mackey, 46, a high school history and digital media teacher in Traverse City, Michigan, where students have been attending mostly in person since September, received her second dose nearly two weeks ago after her district teachers were appointed. as essential workers.
Before that, he kept his classroom windows open and used space heaters.
“If you want schools to be successful and safe and you want your teachers to have their heads in the game, get them vaccinated,” he said. “Putting teachers in a situation where they feel scared all the time, where they want to avoid their children, how is that good for children or teachers?”
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey ordered students and teachers to return to school later this month on Wednesday, saying many teachers have already received their second dose in the state’s early vaccination efforts.
“The science is clear: it is time for all children to have the option of going back to school so they can get back to normal and we can close the achievement gap,” Ducey said in a statement.
The United States has administered nearly 80 million injections in a vaccination campaign that is now catching up, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 20% of the nation’s adults, or about 52 million people, have received at least one dose and 10% have been fully inoculated.
President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the US hopes to have enough vaccines by the end of May for all adults, two months ahead of schedule, although it will likely take longer to give those shots. He also lobbied states to get at least one vaccine in teachers’ arms by the end of March and said the government will provide the doses directly through its pharmacy program.
In Wisconsin, teachers will take priority when the state receives its first shipment of about 48,000 doses of the J&J vaccine, health officials said. Pennsylvania teachers will also be first in line when 94,000 expected doses of the J&J formula arrive this week.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced this week that educators, school staff and child care workers can now receive vaccinations.
And in Massachusetts, about 400,000 teachers, child care workers and school personnel will be eligible to register for vaccines starting March 11, Governor Charlie Baker said Wednesday, although he cautioned it could take some time to book appointments because the supply is still limited.
Tennessee will open vaccines Monday to about 1 million people over the age of 16 who have high-risk health conditions and those in households with medically fragile children.
The rush to vaccinate comes as many states ease restrictions on people and businesses, despite repeated warnings from health officials that the United States is risking another deadly wave. Biden called on Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi Wednesday for lifting the mask rules.
“We are about to be able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease,” said the president. “The last thing we need is for Neanderthal to think that in the meantime, all is well, take off your mask, forget it. It still matters. “
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves responded on Twitter. “The people of Mississippi don’t need manipulators. As the numbers decrease, they can evaluate their options and listen to the experts, ”he said. “I think I think we should trust the Americans, not insult them.”
While recently confirmed deaths and infections have plummeted since their peaks in January, they are still at high levels. The United States has an average of about 2,000 deaths and 66,000 cases per day.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky encouraged Americans to “do the right thing” even if states lift their restrictions.
Vaccines are seen as key to getting people back to work and revitalizing the ailing economy.
“The more people we can get the safe and effective vaccine, the faster we can get back to normal,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement Wednesday announcing that everyone ages 50 to 64 can start. to be vaccinated on March 22. .
Cindy Estrada, vice president of the United Auto Workers, said there have been illnesses and deaths among factory workers, so Detroit’s decision to offer them vaccines “is incredibly important.”
“It will give you a little peace of mind,” he said while showing his arm for a shot.
Associated Press writers Chris Grygiel in Olympia, Washington; David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan; Ed White in Detroit; John Flesher in Traverse City, Michigan; Kimberlee Kruesi in Nashville, Tennessee; Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin; Terry Tang in Phoenix; and Alexandra Jaffe, Nancy Benac, and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this story.