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Florida teachers urge Gov. DeSantis to prioritize educators in state's vaccination plan

They are on the front lines, the state's largest teachers union said, and it's necessary to get them the COVID-19 vaccine to keep communities safe.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Health care personnel, essential workers and those at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 are near the front of the line to receive the initial doses of a vaccine.

Teachers are asking Gov. Ron DeSantis they be among the first, too.

The Florida Education Association recently sent a letter to the governor, writing that he include school employees in the state vaccination plan. Teachers and other staff "have been on the front lines of the response to the pandemic," the teachers union said, and including educators can help keep communities safe.

Since districts reopened to in-person learning, COVID-19 cases among teachers, students and staff at Florida schools have totaled into the thousands. Hillsborough County Public Schools, one of the largest in the state, reports at least 2,475 total reported cases as of Saturday morning.

The FEA says there have been at least 20 COVID-related deaths among teachers since the state's emergency order to reopen schools to in-person learning; five of those occurred in November and December.

"The surest way to provide students with the educational stability they deserve and to protect the health and wellbeing of Florida's educators is to ensure faculty and staff at their schools have easy and immediate access to vaccination," the FEA's letter said.

State educators aren't alone: The National Education Association earlier this month urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other officials to prioritize vaccine access to educators. It cited the CDC's earlier discussion on a vaccination program, including people who work in educational settings "at increased risk of acquiring or transmitting COVID-19.

Twenty-five Democratic members of Congress also are pressing the CDC, according to a letter obtained by the USA Today.

"Prioritizing COVID-19 vaccinations for K-12 educators and school personnel recognizes the essential work of these professionals, enables a safer return to in-person instruction, and provides the means necessary for tens of millions of workers to breathe life into the American economy," the letter reportedly says.

DeSantis on Friday announced Florida is the first state to begin vaccinating residents of long-term care facilities, saying getting those people vaccinated is the first step in the return to "normalcy."

The state received the first doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine almost a week ago and expects 300,000-400,000 doses of Moderna's vaccine pending CDC approval. It was given emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration but awaits the green light by the CDC for shots to begin being administered.

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