New Jersey educators are now eligible for the COVID-19 Vaccine; what does this mean for RV?

On March 1 Governor Murphy released a statement that expands vaccine eligibility to teachers

Mya Collins, News Writer

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy held a press conference on March 1 where he released a statement expanding COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to New Jersey educators beginning March 15. 

With the death toll reaching just over 20,000 in the state, Murphy faced criticism before the long-awaited update that brings New Jersey schools one step closer to normalcy, yet calls into question the fluidity of the appointment process.

“We are expanding the ranks of those eligible to receive their vaccinations,” Murphy said in his press conference. “Let’s start with March 15. This expansion will include our pre-k educators and support staff who are all one form or another educators.”

Mr. Britton, the Director of Instrumental Music, said prior to Murphy’s recent statement, “I feel disappointed that NJ has not prioritized teachers to be vaccinated….especially since teachers have been deemed ‘essential workers’ and that everyone wants school buildings to open for more in-person learning.”

The long-awaited for prioritization of teachers in the state has been cheered by many education advocates as a step in the right direction to re-opening schools.

“[I am] relieved and hopeful that we can make some progress…on battling the disease,” said Principal Martin. “We have a lot of teachers and other staff members and students where COVID isn’t a foreign thing, like when I say it hits home, it’s in their families, it’s in their houses, so just to hear that people have an opportunity now, and so to speak, put at the front of the line means all the world for educators.”

In his press conference, and in the press release from his office, Murphy said, “This eligibility corresponds with more and more of our education communities transitioning from all remote learning to either all in person or hybrid models that have students and educators back in their school buildings throughout the week…As we continue to work towards seeing all of our students back in their schools, ensuring full access to the vaccine to their educators is a big step to take. It’s not the magic wand, it’s not the only step, but it is a big one.”

Looking ahead, vaccinating teachers is necessary for opening RV beyond the two current cohorts that go into school twice a week. 

“Dr. Heilig, our superintendent…just sent out a survey to all families that we’re gonna be taking a look at our cohorts for fourth marking period. We still might not have everyone vaccinated, it’s still gonna come down to a personal decision as far as students and families,” said Martin. “I do think it’s very uplifting for staff members to know that, for lack of better words, hope is on the way.”

But despite this change, many schools, including RV, will likely not see a complete return this academic year. Even throughout the third quarter, many parents are still opting to keep their students remote, and fourth quarter may not be the return to normalcy that everyone hopes for.

“Let’s go to September 2021, I think we’re gonna have so much of our staff and adults double vaccinated that we’re gonna be in a good place,” said Martin. “So if you ask me what I think now, I’m not so sure. You ask me September, I feel a whole lot better.”

Although there seems to be light at the end of this very unprecedented tunnel, some educators are expressing concerns with the inconsistent rollout of the vaccination. Despite Murphy’s announcement, a number of teachers continue to have issues with making an appointment. 

English teacher Mrs. Stopek shared her struggles with securing an appointment. “I was calling [the New Jersey hotline] and saying, ‘how can I get this, what’s going on?’ and they were basically telling me that the demand was far outpacing the actual amount of vaccines they had,” she said. “Most places had shut down their appointments at this point, so it was kinda like getting locked out wherever I went.”

“It seems like in the states, [the vaccines] are either in warehouses…[and] we’re not getting them, it’s not as fluid as we thought it would be getting to these places,” said Martin of the chaotic distribution of vaccines.

Coinciding with the inconsistency in vaccine distribution, the way that information is presented to New Jersey citizens aids in the struggle of securing an appointment. 

“I think the way I felt [the best] was when I was getting the most information,” Stopek said. “For me, it really helped when I joined that Facebook group and I was reading about the ways that people were being successful in getting appointments. I wish there was more clear information somewhere out there because I kept calling this hotline asking questions because I saw other people getting appointments and I was like ‘I have to be doing something wrong’…that’s not really the case…it’s really a system that is not super fair. I think just more information in a clear way would’ve been super helpful because then at least it would’ve eased my mind that I wasn’t doing something wrong.”

Despite educators not being eligible as a whole, Britton received a vaccine before Murphy’s statement and speaks highly of the experience. 

“I did receive my first dose and am scheduled for my second next week because I met certain criteria,” he said. “There was a real sense of purpose coming from the workers [at the distribution site]. I was in awe of the fact that the science to create these vaccines came together so quickly.  I felt honored to receive my dose.”

After administering roughly 2.4 million vaccines as of Saturday, March 6, according to data from the CDC, New Jersey educators wait for March 15 when they are finally included in the necessary fight against COVID-19.