TAMPA, Fla. — Safety in the classroom has been a concern for school staff since the beginning of the pandemic.
"There's still that heightened sense of worry that you're going to get COVID being in the classroom, even with mask on," Spanish teacher Carolina Plested said.
But the Hillsborough County teacher is relieved after finding out she's now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
In a directive, President Joe Biden called on states to give every school employee at least one dose by the end of March.
"Definitely sign me up! I'll be first in line. I'm really excited to get it," Plested said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis just opened up vaccines for K-12 educators that are 50 and older, but President Biden's directive allows 339,352 full-time K-12 staff members in public schools to be vaccinated. At least 85,737 of them are right here in Tampa Bay.
"Because of COVID cases, we've had 39 educators who have lost their battle with COVID this year. Since the start of the school year, almost 70,000 cases that we know of in our schools, so it's important for the protection of our teachers, our staff, our students," Andrew Spar, the President of the Florida Education Association said.
The FEA has been pushing for educators to be prioritized. Spar thinks this is a step in the right direction.
"The vaccine is one of the best ways to solve the challenges that we've had with COVID," Spar said.
With President Biden directing everyone to get at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the month, there's finally a timeline to get shots in arms.
"To say we're gonna do this by the end of March is incredibly optimistic. To actually accomplish that, it's going to take some, some serious dedication at the state level," Epidemiologist Dr. Jill Roberts with USF Public Health said.
Roberts says the Florida Department of Health usually does flu vaccine campaigns this time of year, so that could help with a COVID-19 vaccine rollout to schools. Using doses of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will also help.
"Having another vaccine available, and a single dose, it actually makes a lot of sense to push that one, because you don't have to do the follow-up. If it's a one-time influx, get it done by end of March, and then you're done" Roberts said.
The President says he's going through the federal pharmacy program to get these shots done. He didn't give a clear time for when school employees will be able to register.
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