WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Joe Biden is challenging all states to prioritize vaccinating school staff this month regardless of age.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Coronavirus
Pharmacies that receive COVID-19 vaccines through the Federal Pharmacy Program are under a federal directive to prioritize school employees regardless of age.
School staff are eligible to make vaccine appointments, but the state's health department website Thursday still showed only specific groups 50 and older in the governor's executive order are on the eligibility list.
Sabrina Weinstein, 24, who teaches special needs kindergarteners, said contracting COVID-19 is a real concern every day she is in the classroom.
"I have had a lot of concerns, especially because my students need a lot of hand-over-hand helping, so it's very hard to keep that 6 feet distance apart from them," Weinstein said.
She is relieved to learn that 9,000 pharmacy locations nationwide participating in the Federal Pharmacy Program will offer the COVID-19 vaccine to school staff and child care workers regardless of age.
But how those pharmacy locations will verify eligibility is still unanswered, for the most part.
CVS pharmacy has added screening questions on its COVID-19 appointment booking site, which specifically asks if the customer is part of a priority group and which one.
If you select educator on the site, there is a box to type in your employer and a box you must check affirming the information is true.
Currently, other pharmacies like Walmart have added school employees of any age to those eligible for the shot, but do not say what type of verification, if any needs, to be brought to the appointment.
Weinstein said the challenge for her will be finding an appointment and one that fits her schedule.
"It's already such a problem being able to get a substitute in the classroom right now with the shortage, so it definitely does make it much harder being able to take off the hours to get vaccinated," she said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis acknowledged the federal directive during a media conference Thursday morning and said pharmacies in the federal retail pharmacy program would vaccinate school employees of any age. However, the state’s focus will still those 50 and up.
"The age-based approach we think is the most effective to reduce mortality. At the same time, the federal government is sending us the vaccine. If they want it to be for all ages, then they have the ability to do that," DeSantis said.
The Palm Beach County Health Department and Health Care District said there currently is no executive order expanding vaccine availability to school staff of any age. Only school employees, law enforcement and firefighters 50 years old are the new groups who can book appointments but must bring a work identification or badge to the appointment.
"Our No. 1 goal right now is to get through the senior population," DeSantis said.