White House says teacher vaccinations not required for schools to reopen

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that vaccinating teachers is not a requirement for reopening schools for in-person learning.

“Neither the president nor the vice president believe that it is a requirement,” Psaki said at a briefing when asked whether teachers need to be vaccinated before they return to school.

Psaki said that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines issued on Friday “included a range of mitigation steps, including vaccinations, as recommendations, but the mitigation steps also included steps like social distancing, smaller class sizes, the need for sanitation.”

“At the same time, the president and vice president also believe that teachers should be prioritized,” Psaki continued. “That’s up to states to determine.”

The White House has been careful about wading into the debate around vaccines and reopening schools, as teachers’ unions demand access to vaccines before returning to work.

Psaki’s comments came after Symone Sanders, a spokesperson for Vice President Harris, repeatedly declined to directly answer when asked if teachers need to be vaccinated in order for schools to safely reopen. Sanders said during an appearance on CNN that the White House believes teachers should be prioritized in receiving the vaccine.

The CDC rolled out long-awaited guidance for reopening schools last week, recommending universal mask usage and social distancing. The guidance calls for vaccinations for teachers to be prioritized but not required.

President Biden said during a CNN town hall Tuesday evening that he believes teachers should be moved up in priority and Harris made similar comments during an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday morning.

“We think they should be a priority,” Harris told host Savannah Guthrie when asked to reassure teachers on the safety of school reopenings. “The states are making decisions individually on where they should be on the list of who gets vaccinated.”

Meanwhile, Anthony Fauci said during an interview on “CBS This Morning” on Wednesday that vaccinating all teachers for the coronavirus before reopening schools would be “a non-workable situation.” 

Psaki noted later Wednesday that roughly half of states have prioritized teachers in vaccinations. She said that the federal government cannot mandate that teachers be prioritized, but can offer recommendations.

Biden said at Tuesday’s town hall that his goal is to have most K-8 schools physically reopened five days a week by the end of the first 100 days of his administration, correcting comments Psaki made last week suggesting that Biden’s goal was to have most schools open for at least one day of in-person learning per week.

“When I initially said one day a week, it was our floor, it was not our ceiling,” Psaki said Wednesday when asked to clarify the administration’s goal, saying Biden’s overall goal has always been for schools to reopen five days each week.

Tags Anthony Fauci Coronavirus COVID-19 Education in-person schooling Jen Psaki Joe Biden Pandemic Symone Sanders teacher vaccinations Vaccines

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