The White House held a press briefing on Wednesday on federal preparation and plans to reopen schools amid the coronavirus pandemic. Schools in many states have remained closed for months, with students forced to sit on Zoom calls to take their classes.
Amid mounting pressure from parent groups and conservatives, who are calling upon the Biden administration to provide scientific guidance that would actually see schools reopen, Vice President Kamala Harris continued to emphasize that teachers should be given priority when it comes to receiving COVID vaccines. Speaking to NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, Harris said that teachers “should be able to teach in a safe place.”
"Teachers should be a priority," Harris told Guthrie. "Teachers are critical to our children's development. They should be able to teach in a safe place and expand the minds and the opportunities of our children. So teachers should be a priority along with other frontline workers, and we're going to make them a priority.”
Teachers unions are widely known to be major donors to the Democratic Party, and the Biden administration has been heavily criticized for flip-flopping on reopening schools, subject to the requests of powerful union leaders.
In the Wednesday press conference led by the White House COVID-19 response team and public health officials, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the NIAID of the National Institute of Health appeared to contradict Harris’ suggestion that vaccinations of teachers are required to reopen schools.
Fauci was responding to a question posed to him with regards to previous comments he had made about the necessity of vaccinating teachers.
Q: Dr. Fauci, I've seen you on TV saying that, you know, you can't vaccinate all the teachers before you reopen the schools, but I've also seen the President and the Vice President saying, "Look, it's really, really important that we vaccinate teachers and they need to be prioritized."
And so, I know you don't have the data, but assuming that the number isn't zero, what do you say to the teacher or the person who lives in a teacher household who says, "You know, I don't want to be the next or last person to die of COVID because we were forced to go back to school?" Or do you say that the number is zero?
“Well, first of all, let me just clarify the issue of having to get every teacher vaccinated before you can really open schools and get children back to schools. That really is rather impractical to make that a sine qua non of opening the schools,” Fauci said.
“At the same time that we say that, we do say and we feel strongly that we should try as best as we possibly can to vaccinate teachers,” he added. “And they should be, as a high priority, within the area of essential personnel. So you definitely want to make sure that you don't get that confused. Even though we don't feel that every teacher needs to be vaccinated before you can open a school, that doesn't take away from the fact that we strongly support the vaccination of teachers.”
“When you talk about the danger of teachers getting infected, we know that when you talk about infection within the school setting, it's what really is going on in the community that is the risk of infection to anyone, including teachers.”