Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said during a Wednesday interview with CBS that vaccinating every teacher before reopening schools is a “nonworkable situation.”
Fauci, the Biden administration’s chief medical advisor on COVID-19, told CBS This Morning that while teachers should be a priority for vaccinations, he did not recommend that schools make teacher vaccinations a prerequisite for a return to in-person instruction, and referred to recently released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
Tony Dokoupil, co-host of the show, asked Fauci to explain the White House’s plan about returning younger children to classrooms by the spring. Fauci said that while the final decision is up to Biden, he believes the plan is to adhere to the CDC’s guidelines on school reopenings. Dokoupil then asked how he would respond to teachers who are worried about returning to classrooms without having been vaccinated.
“I think if you’re going to say, every single teacher needs to be vaccinated before you get back to school, I believe that that’s a nonworkable situation,” Fauci responded. “I think teachers should absolutely be a priority among those that we consider essential personnel. You should try to get as many teachers as you possibly can vaccinated as quickly as you possibly can.”
“But to make it sine qua non that you don’t open until every teacher is vaccinated, I think is nonworkable,” he continued. “And I think most of the teachers would agree with that. You want to put a good effort to get as many as you can as quickly as you can, but you don’t want to essentially have nobody in school until all the teachers get vaccinated.”
During a CNN town hall Tuesday, Biden said that his administration’s goal is to open a majority of K-8th grade schools for instruction 5 days of the week within the first 100 days of his administration. The statement was apparently a correction of White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s previous statement that schools would be considered “open” if they held in-person classes one day per week. (RELATED: Biden Says Admin’s One Day Per Week School Plan Was ‘Mistake In Communication’)
Days before the town hall, the CDC recommended a return to in-person instruction outside of cases of very high community transmission rates, and said that teachers do not need to be vaccinated for schools to reopen. The agency also echoed a previous statement made by Fauci in late 2020 by saying that schools should be the last entities to close and the first to reopen in future efforts to slow community COVID-19 spread.
During a late-November interview on ABC, Fauci said that schools should reopen while bars close as part of an effort to slow the spread while mitigating the impact of keeping children from classrooms. He was speaking in the context of New York City schools closing that month, and noted that “the spread among children and from children is not really very big at all, not like one would have suspected.”
Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Tom Frieden has made a similar assessment, and said in February that schools can be reopened with a “reasonable degree of safety” even before the vaccine is distributed.
“We can’t hold up reopening schools for vaccination,” Frieden told CBSN. “The fact is, that we have seen very little spread in academic settings in schools. Most of what we see is spread in the community.”
Multiple teachers unions have made vaccinations a stipulation of school reopening agreements. San Francisco teachers unions recently reached a tentative agreement with the district to return to classrooms once the city is in the Red Tier, meaning there is substantial COVID-19 spread, and once teachers are vaccinated.