The White House is facing accusations that prioritizing teachers for receiving COVID vaccines violates the Biden administration’s commitment to “vaccine equity,” which calls for racial minorities to receive the vaccine ahead of everyone else, including the elderly, who are most at risk for the disease.
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked whether the administration’s decision to pressure states to allow teachers and school staff to cut the queue and receive the vaccine ahead of other groups violates their commitment to equity. The question echoed criticism from so-called health equity activists like Dr. Celine Gounder, who described the administration’s approach as “anti-equity.”
The reporter asked: “Dr. Celine Gounder called the move to prioritize teachers ‘anti-equity’ since most teachers are white and it’s taking away from those people who are underserved,” the reporter noted. “What is the administration doing to make sure teachers and these people who are underserved will have the same access to vaccines?”
Psaki did not appear to have expected the question and replied, “first, we simply disagree, and not just me or the president, but the head of our equity task force and our health and medical team for a couple of reasons.”
“One, it’s critical to remember that the program is beyond teachers and includes bus drivers, janitorial workers, childcare workers, a workforce that is…incredibly diverse,” Psaki said.
Psaki appeared to disagree with the messaging of teachers’ unions, members of which have suggested that returning to in-classroom teaching could be considered “racist.”
“Second, getting kids back to school is one of the most equitable steps we can take because what we’ve seen, statistically, is that black and Latino students are disproportionately experiencing learning loss for a variety of reasons,” she said.
Psaki defended the administration’s move, saying that some of those reasons include “internet interconnectivity” and “parents who are disproportionately front line workers.” Psaki concluded the press briefing by stating that sending students back to schools would be the most equitable thing that the White House could do for parents and communities of color amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention as well as Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the NIAID and advisor to the White House, have stated that it is unnecessary for all teachers to be vaccinated to resume in-person teaching — rendering the Biden administration’s move to pressure states to do so somewhat unnecessary.
As detailed by the Daily Wire:
Dr. Gounder referenced the change in administration policy towards vaccinating teachers as creating further hurdles, particularly given that vaccinating teachers ahead of other high-risk groups is unnecessary and not a prerequisite to returning to schools.
“This doesn’t make any sense. High-risk teachers (i.e. over 65 and/or with chronic medical conditions) would be vaccinated as part of those groups. Young, healthy teachers don’t need to be prioritized. Schools are among the safest in-person workplaces,” she wrote on Twitter.
“Retail pharmacies told to prioritize vaccinating teachers but not getting extra supply. This means taking vaccine away from higher-risk persons & communities of color to vaccine young healthy teachers. This is an ANTI-EQUITY move,” she said.