TEXAS VIEW: Don’t put all teachers next in COVID-19 vaccine lineTHE POINT: Distribution of the vaccine should seek to balance essentialness and vulnerability.

Nearly everyone thinks their group is essential enough to be near the front of the line for the coronavirus vaccine.
Texas’ leaders and public health officials have the unenviable task of sorting through myriad requests. The state is prioritizing front-line hospital workers, those who’ve done heroic, dangerous work already treating COVID-19 patients. Also at the top of the list are EMTs and residents and staff at long-term care facilities. After that, for now, comes more health care workers, such as those at urgent-care facilities and pharmacists.
The debate about where to put teachers is heated, as all education matters have been during the pandemic. Fort Worth schools Superintendent Kent Scribner, who heads a group of leaders at large, urban districts, wants teachers included in the initial distribution group.
“Campus-based educators are on the front lines every day,” Scribner wrote to Gov. Greg Abbott. “While they are utilizing best practices in safety protocols, they are still at a much higher risk of contracting COVID than those of us who can work in a closed office setting or from home.”
He’s right that teachers are a priority. Getting schools fully open is critical to our recovery. Most importantly, there’s overwhelming evidence of psychological and social damage to kids, as well as huge lapses in learning. It’s an economic need to have schools running regularly, and the sign of normalcy will provide a psychic boost.
But Scribner’s group is overreaching. Distribution of the vaccine should seek to balance essentialness and vulnerability.
Putting every Texas teacher at the front of the line makes little sense. Other groups of workers are also keeping society afloat, and the right thing to do would be to inoculate the most vulnerable among each of those.
Why, for example, should a healthy 30-year-old teacher receive the vaccine before a 50-year-old cop or grocery clerk or bus driver with diabetes?
Some teacher groups have tried to portray schools as a particular hothouse of coronavirus transmission. But there’s little evidence of that. If proper protocols are followed, particularly masks and good ventilation, education is not a super-spreading activity.
Teachers in Texas are apparently of sturdier stock than their counterparts in places such as Los Angeles, where unions want schools closed through the spring. Texas districts do face, however, significant staffing issues. Many have had teachers out for weeks because they caught the virus or had to quarantine due to possible exposure. It’s been tough to find enough substitutes, too.
Vaccinating vulnerable teachers would ease those strains. It would promptly improve education, and that should be a priority after so many months of lost learning. But if the primary goal is to save lives, vulnerable workers in other essential groups are important, too.
And state health officials are hearing arguments from every corner of Texas about who should receive the vaccine next. The Dallas Morning News reported last Wednesday that they’ve received appeals on behalf of ride-share and food-delivery companies, some employees of the agency that runs Texas’ electricity grid and audiologists, among others.
Some public-health experts contend that prisoners are a priority, given COVID-19 outbreaks in lockups and the close confinement that allows the virus to spread. Politically, that request is almost certain to fall on deaf ears.
Abbott and other leaders have declined so far to specify how vaccine distribution should proceed beyond the first phase. He suggested last Thursday that teachers should be a priority.
Achieving normalcy, he told reporters in Austin, requires “teachers in a safe, secure situation, vaccinated, able to be in a classroom teaching without fear of getting COVID-19.”
The governor projected that more than 1 million Texans will probably be vaccinated by the end of the year. Abbott also expressed confidence that more doses will soon be available, noting that Moderna and other companies will release their versions in the coming months.
That’s all the more reason for the state to weigh both essential work and health vulnerability in doling out the first rounds of vaccine. Every decision should work toward saving lives and slowing the pandemic.
And that means some — but not all — teachers should be in line soon.