By Christian Wade | The Center Square
The state’s largest teachers union is pushing to move educators higher up in the COVID-19 vaccine line, and blasting Gov. Chris Sununu for prioritizing ski patrol workers over teachers in the first round of inoculations.
New Hampshire is one of only two states – including New Jersey – where educators are eligible to get vaccinated in phase two of the rollout plans. That goes against U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, which recommends educators be inoculated in the first round.
The New Hampshire chapter of the National Education Association, which represents about 17,000 educators in the state, is calling for teachers to be added to Phase 1B of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout along with high-risk first-responders, people with preexisting medical conditions and residents 65 and older.
Last week, a group of current and retired 300 teachers, public school staff and elected officials wrote to Sununu asking that they be moved up higher in the vaccine rollout.
“In order for us to ensure that we can keep our schools open and our staff and students safe, the state needs to prioritize vaccinating educators,” the educators wrote. “We cannot keep our schools open safely until this is done, and delaying the process will only further hurt our students, their families, and our state.”
Supporters of the changes have gathered more than 10,000 signatures on a petition calling on Sununu administration to include teachers in the first round of inoculations.
The NEA-NH points out that Sununu’s vaccination protocol prioritizes ski patrol workers before teachers. Sununu’s family are partial owners of Waterville Valley Resort, a ski area.
Sununu, a Republican, has defended the decision to prioritize first-responders and older residents over educators, and accused the teachers’ union of “politicizing” the issue.
“We’re going to get our most vulnerable population vaccinated,” Sununu said at a news briefing last week. “That’s the key to making sure our health care system doesn’t get overrun.”
Sununu has also cited the relatively low COVID-19 infection rate in the state’s public schools as a reason not to move teachers up in the priority line. He points out that ski patrol workers are considered emergency medical technicians who, like other first-responders, are at a higher risk of getting infected.
NEA-NH President Megan Tuttle fired back at Sununu on social media, calling on the governor to “follow the CDC guidelines regarding vaccines and educators.”
“You are making up the rest of your accusations to distract from the issue at hand,” Tuttle posted on Twitter. “It is shameful and it is wrong.”
An estimated 300,000 Granite Staters are eligible to be vaccinated in Phase 1B of the rollout, which got underway on Jan. 26, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Under the state’s current distribution plan, public school teachers are set to receive the vaccine beginning in March.]
Following backlash over reports that wealthy, out-of-state nonresidents were getting vaccinated ahead of full-time Granite Staters, Sununu updated the vaccine plans to clarify that nonresidents are no longer eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations in the state.
“But that absolutely does not change the fact that our teachers and grocery store workers still have to wait behind ski patrol members who work at Sununu’s resort to get the vaccines,” New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley said in a statement. “Sununu is using the vaccine rollout to benefit himself and his family at the expense of Granite Staters.”