Education committee leaders urge vaccine access for all school employees

Washington state’s education committee leaders, including 12th District state Sen. Brad Hawkins, urged Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of Health to revise recent guidance so that all school employees who wish to get a vaccination can receive one in February as part of Phase 1B2.

According to the Department of Health’s recent guidance and timeline, which health care providers are following, school employees “50 years or older” are eligible to receive their vaccines as early as February. However, school employees “under 50 years” of age will not be eligible until at least April. The Jan. 11 letter comes at a time when school districts throughout Washington are expecting many, if not all, grade levels to soon return to classrooms to potentially interact with hundreds of students per day.

While this is welcome news for many in the school community, Hawkins – who serves as the ranking Republican member on the Senate’s Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee – believes it definitely justifies school employees (administrators, teachers, and support staff) gaining access to the vaccines now that front-line healthcare workers, first responders, and assisted living facility residents have already begun to receive vaccinations.

“School employees throughout Washington are delivering an essential service to help fulfill our state’s paramount duty,” said Hawkins. “They deserve to be prioritized with older Washingtonians, especially considering that they cannot self-isolate like many in our state. In fact, they will be doing the opposite, working indoors and in close proximity with students and staff. They absolutely should gain access to the vaccine.”

The letter, signed by the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate education committees, states: “As members of the Washington State Legislature and supporters of our educational system, we are writing to express our disappointment with the Department of Health’s recent guidance related to Washington’s COVID-19 Vaccine Phases. Based on your graphical representation of the phases and its timeline, it appears that many school district employees will not be eligible to receive their first dose of the COVID vaccine until at least April. If timelines slip and school employees are unable to receive their first dose until later in April, by the time they are fully vaccinated and gain full protection from the virus, school districts across Washington will be nearing the end of the school year. This is unacceptable.”

 The letter further states: “As you know, school employees, students and families have made tremendous sacrifices during this pandemic and, like us all, they deeply hope for circumstances to return to normal soon. However, nothing will even resemble normal until our schools are fully functioning, given that they are foundational in so many ways to all Washington communities.”

(Included are links to the letter from the legislative education committee leaders to the governor and DOH, and the vaccine distribution timeline.)