Fort Wayne, Ind. (WANE) – Many teachers in Allen County want to be prioritized early in Indiana’s vaccination distribution effort. Three area teachers unions sent a letter to Indiana governor Eric Holcomb and Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box about the concern.

The letter was sent Saturday by Sandra Vohs, President of the Fort Wayne Education Association, Ryan Henly, President of Southwest Allen County Teachers Association, and Andra Kosmoski, President of East Allen Educators Association.

“One reason given for the change in the distribution plan involved the data which shows schools are
proving to have less COVID spread than their surrounding communities due to the safety precautions of wearing masks, social distancing, and disinfecting procedures,” they wrote. “While this is something to consider, it is not reassuring to those of us who work in the schools every day.”

The three union leaders then cited ISDH statistics.

“We know that over 24,000 students and almost 11,000 teachers and staff have tested positive so far, and that new variants of the infection are even more easily transmissible,” they stated. “What better way to boost the safety in our schools and help ensure they can remain open for in-person instruction than to prioritize educators for the COVID-19 vaccine?”

Monday, Kosmoski explained further to WANE 15.

“We are working daily to do what is best for our students and our community by having in-person classes and that is exposing us to testing positive for COVID ourselves,” she said. “So I think the vaccine would be important not only for making sure that teachers can be in the buildings safely, but that we’re safely in the building for our students also.”

In another conversation, Vohs expounded on that thought.

“We have really put a big emphasis on having in-person school open and if we want to keep in person school open, it makes nothing but sense to have teachers receive vaccines,” she said. “Teachers aren’t saying we need to displace anybody else. We’re just saying add us to the list of people out there right now.”

ISDH sent WANE 15 a statement in response to the letter from the unions saying in part, “We began by vaccinating healthcare workers who provide direct patient care and long-term care staff and residents, and then expanded eligibility to include first responders and individuals age 65 and older. We are taking an age-based approach to current expansion because age is the number one cause of hospitalizations and death due to COVID. Hoosiers age 60 and older account for 93% of our COVID-19 deaths in the state.”

Vohs, Kosmoski, and Henly also wrote a letter to Allen County Department of Health Dr. Matthew Sutter asking if teachers be allowed to place their names on a standby list for unused doses of the vaccine such as being done in other places the country. The vaccines expire by day’s end once opened.

Sutter said left over doses are currently going first to people who are directly helping their health department with their vaccination distribution. One, because these crew are risking their health by interacting with a lot of people and secondly, because these individuals are immediately available since they are working with the health department at distribution sites.

“I understand their frustration,” Sutter said of teachers. “I wish I could get them vaccines and I do support the state’s position that the most important thing is vaccinating those people who are more likely to be hospitilized and more likely to die.”

He explained that very few doses remain at the end of the day, maybe just one or two or even zero.

“All I need is more vaccine,” he said. “As soon as we get the vaccines, I would love to get the teachers the vaccines.”

Sutter said teachers should not expect to be added to the vaccination eligibility list in the month of February.