Indiana teachers challenge Gov. Holcomb's vaccine schedule

MISHAWAKA, Ind. - President Joe Biden encouraging states this week to get educators vaccinated by the end of the month but Indiana officials have yet to set a clear schedule.

"Boy, I wish I knew so. Phase one b will start next week. But we don't even have clear guidance yet on who all's included in phase b," Dr. Mark Fox the St. Joseph County Deputy Health Officer said over a month ago.

However, months later, the answer is the same.

"We don't know right now the state's plan is to do that by age," Wayne Barker, the Superintendent of Schools for the School City of Mishawaka said.

"Nope. I have no idea. And it's getting to the point where I'm, I'm just assuming and hoping at this point. I hope I'm vaccinated before august, I hope," Josh Kinder, a middle school math teacher for Elkhart Community Schools said.

While dozens of other states, including Michigan, have already started the vaccination process with teachers and other school staff, Indiana is late to the game.

"Will teachers be vaccinated in time for next school year? Even that hasn't been answered," Kinder said.

Leaving educators questioning when they will even have a shot at getting a shot.

"Initially we were under the impression that educators would be included as essential workers, along with health care workers," Barker said. "At some point, educators would fall into a category, and it's been very disappointing and frustrating that that that hasn't happened.”

Although President Joe Biden announced Tuesday he hopes to have all teachers vaccinated by the end of the month, Governor Holcomb was vague at his weekly press conference Wednesday.

"They were going to provide doses to the federal pharmacy program for teachers to become prioritized across the country. Obviously, including here in the state of Indiana so what that means to our teachers is obviously if you're 50, or older and you're a teacher. You're age-eligible to go to any one of our sites," Holcomb said. "But also now they're going to fold in the federal government will fold in their doses, their appointment regimen and scheduling process at Meijer, at Kroger and at Walmart."

"We've been asking for reasonable class sizes and higher salaries. And here's something that Indiana hasn't even had to really pay for. And they have these vaccines, and they're holding it from us. It's kind of what it feels like," Kinder said.

"That's very disappointing. You know I think our educators deserve to be vaccinated I think they're, you know they're on the frontlines with our students. They're coming into contact with a high number of students every day," Barker said.

Concord Community Schools taking advocating a new level, the school board approving on Monday a resolution requesting Governor Holcomb “prioritize teachers and district employees for COVID-19 vaccinations by moving them up to phase 1 eligibility.”

I reached out to the Indiana Department of Health who sent this statement. 

“We are taking an age-based approach to current expansion because age is the number one cause of hospitalizations and death due to covid. Additional groups will be added based on vaccine availability," an ISDH official said. "We are currently in phase 1b of our vaccination plan, and teachers have always been in phase 2.”

Critics day one saying COVID transmission rates within schools are very low and older Hoosiers need it more.

“I'm healthy, but I know we have employees who come here every day, who have a much greater risk, who are just younger than me, and for them to not be able to be vaccinated where I can be just because, or I will be able to soon because of an age, I think is just wrong," Barker said. “The transmission rates I understand in schools, they're low, but there's still risk involved, and there's anxiety involved, and there's quarantining and contact tracing and it's really difficult to keep schools open and have the right number of employees just even through contact tracing.

"A classroom is a public space. And governments have responsibility for public spaces," Kinder said. “I would agree that there hasn't been that much transmission of the virus at schools. That's because of all the steps we've taken. I mean, I look around in my city as I go around my day, and I don't see any other place in my city where everybody's wearing a mask all the time. And actually following those mask orders. We're doing it in classrooms because we can and we have to.”

It’s been months since the vaccine first rolled out in the Hoosier state and educators say their patience is at a tipping point.

“I just think we're at a point now where educators should at least be communicated with and as to where we are on the priority list,” Barker said. “It's another thing and in the state of indiana that just drives a wedge between how educators feel about the respect and support they're given from, you know, our state government.”

“I think the sooner we can get down to zero cases, the sooner we can start looking in the rearview at this pandemic, and moving on with our lives, but at this rate, Indiana is going to be in the last place. And that's what I'm concerned with," Kinder said. 

So some of Mishawaka teachers now 50 plus can and have been vaccinated just because of their age. But a complete vaccine rollout for Indiana teachers is still uncertain. 

So what is the situation with teachers being turned away from Walmart vaccine centers?

There are standby lists where Hoosiers can come to “last call” and receive a vaccine that would’ve been thrown away at the end of the day. And that's exactly what some teachers are doing. In fact, teachers were just at Meijers Wednesday trying to get those last-minute vaccines.

However, state officials are trying to put a stop to that practice saying that even though it’s important to not waste vaccines, standby lists are for those currently eligible for the vaccine and some Indiana teachers don’t qualify yet.

Now teachers both over and under 50 years old were also at South Bend Schools Thursday receiving vaccines and ABC57 is not quite sure if this is part of the Federal Government's rollout or another standby list situation. 

Have and questions or concerns regarding local schools? Reach out to us at Learningcurve@abc57.com.

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