NC educators jump to the front of the vaccine line, even as many seniors wait

By Julie Havlak

Raleigh, NC – Education workers will leap to the head of the line for COVID-19 vaccines on Feb. 24. More than a million seniors are still waiting for their first dose. 

Nurse administers the first dose of the COVID 19 vaccine at recent Chatham County event.
(photo courtesy of Chatham County Health Department)

Seniors will share their priority status with teachers, child-care workers, and anyone working in Pre-K–12 schools, beginning Feb. 24. The state has vaccinated only 40.7% of its senior citizens, and hundreds of thousands of seniors still haven’t gotten their vaccination, as of Wednesday, Feb. 10. Most North Carolinians don’t approve of the state’s vaccine rollout, according to an Elon Poll released Tuesday.

Only health care workers, long-term care workers, and those older than 65 now qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine. But Gov. Roy Cooper plans to expand eligibility for the shots. Education workers can get their shot starting Feb. 24, and other essential workers will qualify March 10. 

North Carolina was home to 1.7 million adults over 65 among a population of 10.4 million people, as of 2018. The state has distributed 1.01 million first doses to seniors, health care workers, and long-term care residents or workers. That leaves almost 1.06 million seniors waiting for a shot.  

Under Cooper’s plan, the state won’t require applicants to present any identification or proof that they are educational workers. The system will rely partly on honesty, said Cooper. 

Cooper says this approach gives the state two weeks to ramp up vaccinating its senior population. He also said he expects the state’s supply of doses to increase during this time. 

“That gives the state two more weeks to vaccinate those 65 and older as the supply is increasing,” Cooper said. “We do know that we want to get to our front-line workers as soon as we can.”

Cooper did not answer questions about the timing of his announcement. 

Hundreds of parents protested school closures in front of the governor’s mansion this week. Cooper began urging schools to return to the classroom a day after the protest. But he still refuses to mandate reopening via legislative action or executive order. 

Republican lawmakers are pushing to require schools to reopen their classrooms to students. The Senate passed a bill to mandate school reopening, but the local branch of a nation teacher’s union, the N.C. Association of Educators, opposes the bill. Most Democratic lawmakers voted against it. 

Cooper emphasized that vaccinating teachers wasn’t necessary to safely reopen schools. 

“The research, scientific and health evidence shows you can safely have students in the classroom if safety protocols are followed, even without vaccinations,” Cooper said. 

Cooper did not say which essential workers would qualify for a vaccine in March.

“Everybody deserves a vaccine,” Cooper said. “And when you have tremendous demand, millions of people needing a vaccine, you’re dealing with thousands of shots, that’s very difficult to prioritize.”