Massachusetts educators and staff at K-12 schools may receive COVID phase 2 vaccine, but most students must wait for doses tested for children

Educators and staff at Massachusetts K-12 schools will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in the state’s second phase, the head of the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group said on Wednesday.

Dr Paul Biddinger said teachers and staff would be prioritized for the vaccine in Phase 2, but students would not be included as most students would not be eligible. The vaccine candidates that Pfizer and Moderna are seeking emergency approval for distribution have been tested in adults, and the companies are just beginning to conduct trials involving people under the age of 18.

“At this time, we don’t know what the indications for pediatric populations will be for the emergency use authorization,” said Biddinger, who serves as medical adviser to the governor for the state’s response to COVID. -19. “We simply cannot say what the indications will be for the pediatric population. “

Eighteen-year-old students would also not be covered by Phase 2, Biddinger said. They might get a higher priority if they have multiple risk factors or if they have a job that could put them at risk for COVID-19, such as a part-time job in a grocery store, like a typical adult would.

The K-12 staff population was only one segment of the priority population for COVID-19 vaccines. Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled the state’s three-phase vaccination plan on Wednesday. The first phase, which is allocated to around 300,000 doses, prioritizes health workers treating COVID-19 patients, long-term care facilities and people in collective settings.

The state estimates that the first phase would take place between December and February if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine candidates within the next week. Medical leaders predict the state will receive 300,000 doses by the end of the year.

The next 1.9 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine would go to K-12 workers and others in Phase 2. These include people at high risk for complications from COVID-19, in especially those with two or more comorbidities, preschool education providers, public transport. workers, grocery store employees, public store employees and public health officials, adults over 65, and possibly people with co-morbidities that could increase their risk of getting sick from COVID-19 .

The advisory group estimated that around 818,000 doses of the vaccine would go to workers in education, transit, food and other priority sectors in Phase 2, according to the state submission. . But these numbers are only state projections and depend on approved vaccine candidates.

The third phase, which extends vaccinations to the rest of the public, is expected to start in April.

In total, the state aims to vaccinate about 5.8 million people in Massachusetts, or more than 80% of the state’s nearly 6.9 million people. Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, who oversees the state’s COVID-19 command center, said that figure was based on the estimate of residents over the age of 14.

“This is an estimate because, as Dr Biddinger said, we don’t know what [emergency use authorization] going to say in terms of the pediatric population, ”Sudders said at a press conference Wednesday.

Massachusetts had 75,000 staff in public school buildings in the fall, according to the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

But more of the population could fall into the K-12 category as part of the state’s vaccine distribution plan.

Overall, there are more than 137,600 full-time educators statewide, ranging from teachers, psychiatrists and school resource managers to school administrators and principals. About 52,423 of them, or 38% of the teaching population, are 49 years of age or older, according to DESE data for the 2019-2020 school year.

Kindergarten to grade 12 students, most of whom would not be eligible for the vaccine, make up more than one-eighth of the state’s population. Enrollment in the state as of Oct. 1 fell to 911,432 students among 400 school districts, down 3.9% from the same time last year.

The state welcomed approximately 450,000 students to public schools in the fall.

This does not mean that the state will ignore children in the immunization plan. Pfizer recently received approval to include participants as young as 12 years old in its advanced stage vaccine study. Moderna plans to recruit 3,000 children between the ages of 12 and 17 for a study of the vaccine’s effects on adolescents, according to a Dec. 2 publication.

While school children will not be eligible for the vaccine in the first few months, the state is looking for ways to get students back to class if they wear masks and have their desks spaced apart. Earlier this month, DESE sent letters to school districts across the state requesting more information on when special education students and people with disabilities will return to classrooms.

MassLive reporter Melissa Hanson contributed to this report.

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