PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — The head of the Palm Beach County teachers' union says he's pleased to hear that certain Florida educators will be next in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said that starting next week, Florida will begin offering the vaccine to teachers and law enforcement personnel who are 50 and older at four federally operated vaccination sites in Miami, Tampa, Orlando, and Jacksonville.
"We think we can do that, given the additional vaccine, without it impinging on the senior population," DeSantis said during a news conference in Hernando County on Wednesday.
The FEMA sites are due to open on March 3 and will operate seven days per week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
"With those federal sites, that's additional vaccine beyond what Florida had been allocated," DeSantis said. "So it's not coming out of what we had been getting, or even any anticipated increases. That's purely a federal supply."
WPTV spoke with Justin Katz, the president of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association, which represents around 7,000 to 8,000 teachers at a given time.
"The sooner we can get them vaccinated, the better we will feel," Katz said.
Katz added that educators who do face-to-face instruction under a hybrid model of teaching should be prioritized to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
The CTA president said many teachers come in close contact with hundreds of students each day, as well as co-workers in close quarters, which could increase their risk of contracting or spreading the virus.
"The faster schools reopen and as normal as possible, the better for everybody," Katz said. "The quickest route to do that is to try to vaccinate as many employees as possible to reduce the risk of any sort of spread, or bring it home and get sick."
According to Katz, the age expansion will open the door for vaccinations for nearly 5,000 teachers in Palm Beach County who are 50 and older.
Katz said that in a perfect world, a good time to get all of the faculty and staff inoculated would be during the week of Spring Break.
"If they are able to utilize that week and if the governor were to authorize a more widespread distribution of the vaccine to educators, I think a lot of people would take advantage of the opportunity," Katz said.
Back in January, Palm Beach County Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy sent a letter to DeSantis, asking the governor to make the vaccine available to all school district employees, regardless of age, particularly those with direct student contact.
The governor did not grant that request.
"If we can get vaccines into our employees who are in direct contact with students, it will make it a whole lot easier for all of us to keep our schools open," Fennoy told WPTV in an interview last month.
Currently, teachers in Florida are not eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, unless they are 65 and older or deemed to be "extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 by hospital providers."