JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. ( -- Speaking Thursday from the Missouri State Capitol, top health official Dr. Randall Williams said the government is not considering moving teachers up in the priority for vaccine rollout, given how many elderly and vulnerable residents remain un-vaccinated. 

"Our North Star is our most vulnerable," Williams said, adding that he looks closely at senior citizen vaccination rates each morning. "This morning, for [age] 85 and over it was 35 percent. For 75 and over it was 24 percent, and for 65 it was 25 percent."

28 states, including neighboring Illinois, have made teachers eligible for the vaccine. In Missouri, teachers are not yet eligible as a profession, but some may qualify based on age or health conditions. Williams said he understands the concern for educators, but points to what the state government sees as an obligation to help those most at-risk first. 

"Those people who are more likely to get sick, and quite bluntly, pass away if they get COVID continue to be our focus," Williams said, pointing to those with heart disease (1 million people in the state in his estimation), and Type II diabetes, and cancer. "It's the biology of the disease. If you have two people: a 75-year-old with diabetes and a 35-year-old teacher- and you could put anyone else in there, not just teachers- we just feel it's out obligation to protect those who are most likely to get really sick. That's what is guiding us and continues to guide us."

Missouri has not at any point listed teachers in the highest-priority tiers, but with the national discussion around the issue and several states deciding to amend vaccine priorities to include them, the topic was raised again at the statehouse. 

Teachers and school staff in the Show-Me State continue to push to be moved up in priority, however, saying they believe they should be considered frontline workers. 

"We deserve to be pushed to the front of the line for the vaccine. How can we keep our students and their families safe?" said Carron Johnson, who is support staff at Gateway Middle School. "Our students can't get the vaccine, but we can get the vaccine. We need Governor Parson and Dr. Williams to step up and push us to the top, because we deserve the vaccine and we are frontline workers."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, previously said he believed vaccinating teachers is crucial, but is not necessary to reopen schools. 

"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," Fauci, said during a White House briefing this week.

President Joe Biden previously said teachers should be moved up the list, along with others who work in schools. 

"I think the teachers and the folks who work in the school, the cafeteria workers and others should be on the list of preferred to get a vaccination," Biden told CNN. 

Missouri has administered 940,000 vaccines so far, and Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday he expects that number to hit 1 million this week. Roughly 11% of the state has received their first dose. There are currently 3 million people eligible for the vaccine between Phase 1A and Phase 1B Tiers 1 and 2. Teachers are listed as Tier 3. 

Copyright 2021 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved


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