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Teachers unions propose pilot program to rapidly vaccinate school employees

Unions want pilot program to begin before educators are eligible for vaccines

Nurse Joanne Prendergast draws a dose from a vial at Fenway Park on Monday.
Nurse Joanne Prendergast draws a dose from a vial at Fenway Park on Monday.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

A coalition of labor organizations, including Massachusetts’ two largest teachers unions, proposed Wednesday that the state support a pilot program to rapidly vaccinate school employees at up to 20 high-needs school districts starting this month.

The organizations want the pilot program, called the Last Mile Vaccine Delivery Proposal, to be launched while the state is vaccinating people ages 65 and older; only people 75 and older are currently eligible. Once more vaccine doses become available, the program can “be scaled up to administer shots to school staff across the state as quickly as possible,” they wrote in a letter Wednesday to Marylou Sudders, the state’s health and human services secretary, and Monica Bharel, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health.

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The program would initially be rolled out in 10 to 20 low-income communities and communities of color, where the coronavirus pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll and where many students have been learning remotely since last spring. Participation in the pilot program would be limited to communities with high coronavirus transmission rates and a large number of low-income students, the groups wrote.

“Getting students who need in‐person learning back to school safely is an issue of equity,” wrote the leaders of nine different organizations in their cosigned letter. The proposal was sent by representatives from the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, the Boston Teachers Union, the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, UFCW 1459, Massachusetts AFL‐CIO, AFSCME Council 93, and United Steelworkers.

“The education of our students, preK through college, has been badly disrupted by COVID‐19,” they wrote. “Hundreds of thousands of students are being taught remotely some or all of the time, some with great success while others continue to struggle. And while no child and family is left untouched by COVID‐ 19, the disparate impact of the coronavirus on people of color is mirrored in their schools.”

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K-12 educators are currently slated to receive the coronavirus vaccine as part of the third priority group in Phase 2 of the state’s vaccination plan. The state began Phase 2 on Feb. 1, making people 75 and older eligible for the vaccine.

The next group to become eligible — which is the group immediately before educators and other specific essential workers — will be people who are 65 and older and those who have 2 or more comorbidities. They were moved ahead of educators in the vaccination priority list last month, a change that alarmed teachers unions at the time.

In their joint letter Wednesday, the various groups expressed concern that there is “no state-approved plan for how to vaccinate school employees.”

The Last Mile Vaccine Delivery Proposal, as the pilot program is called, was designed in part by infection control company Mascon Medical, which would be responsible for locating vaccination sites, contracting personnel to operate the sites, and working with municipal partners to make it all work, the organizations wrote.

Local firefighters and EMTs would administer the vaccines and provide any other needed medical care. All the program needs before it can launch, the groups wrote, is the state’s support.

A trial run of the Last Mile Vaccine Delivery service began operating last week at locations in Chelsea and Quincy where Brewster Ambulance EMTs vaccinated eligible people in the community.

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The groups requested a meeting with state leaders to discuss the program this week. The state’s COVID-19 Command Center did not immediately respond to the Globe’s request for comment.

The organizations urged Massachusetts leaders to move fast on the their proposal, noting that the state is lagging behind many others that have already begun vaccinating school staff members.

“It would be a turnkey operation, taking the burden off of state and municipal leaders,” the groups wrote. “This would save municipalities from having to reinvent the wheel in each community.”


Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.