President Biden urged state officials Tuesday to give school employees priority access to COVID-19 vaccinations, setting a goal that all educators receive a shot by month’s end.
Biden’s directive drew immediate praise from teachers and Democratic leaders who had urged Governor Charlie Baker to move educators to the front of the line. But it raised concerns that doing so could delay distribution for other groups given limited vaccine supply.
“Vaccinating educators is important,” said Colin Killick, executive director of the Malden-based Disability Policy Consortium. “What we’re focused on is that Massachusetts is behind more than 25 other states in the level of priority it is giving to people with disabilities. That’s what needs to be corrected.”
Baker said Tuesday the state cannot prioritize tens of thousands of teachers given its limited supply of vaccine. Administration officials did not say whether Biden’s announcement would change the state’s vaccine program.
Biden said the federal government would provide the doses for educators directly through its pharmacy program, suggesting it may not affect the state’s plans.
“Let’s treat in-person learning as the essential service that it is,” Biden said.
More than 30 states are allowing teachers to be vaccinated. In Massachusetts, teachers are scheduled to become eligible in the next phase of the rollout, but there has not been a specific date set.
Baker has pointed to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that it is safe for teachers to be in the classroom without vaccination.
“Learning in a classroom is the best and safest place for students, and public health data continues to prove that schools pose a very low risk for COVID transmission when safety protocols are followed,” a Baker spokesman said Tuesday.
But State Representative Jack P. Lewis, a Framingham Democrat, said Baker’s policies have not matched his priorities, such as reopening schools.
“What we’ve had for nearly a year is an administration that wants it all – the economy reopening, kids back in school, and seniors vaccinated – and the reality is that can’t happen” if the policies aren’t in place to support it, he said.
Biden said the US expects to take delivery of enough coronavirus vaccine for all adults by the end of May, two months earlier than anticipated, and some said they did not expect giving teachers faster access to the vaccine would have a significant impact on other groups.
“Vaccinating educators is important, and I am optimistic that increases in production won’t cause further delays for any other groups,” said C.R. Lyons, president of the Massachusetts Funeral Directors Association.
Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association said “teachers and restaurant employees are among the next group targeted by the governor to receive vaccinations.”
“With the addition on the new J&J single shot vaccine, we expect that both groups will shortly be approved to move forward,” he said.
Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said it is crucial to vaccinate school employees “so that we can protect the many thousands who are already working in person and open schools more fully this spring.”
“In-person learning is by far the best way to meet our students’ social, emotional and academic needs,” Najimy said.
Matt Stout and Emma Platoff of the Globe Staff contributed to this story. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.