These Are the Barriers Preventing Teachers From Getting Vaccinated

Teacher at a whiteboard during COVID-19 pandemic.

Viktorcvetkovic / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • President Joe Biden recently directed all states to prioritize educators, school staff members, and childcare workers for vaccination.
  • Many barriers hinder teachers from getting vaccinated right now, such as vaccine availability, accessibility, and hesitancy.
  • Vaccinating school staff is only one part of the solution in curbing the spread of COVID-19 and addressing the pandemic's impact on schools.

On March 2, President Joe Biden directed every state to prioritize educators, specifically pre-K-12 and childcare workers, for COVID-19 vaccination, allowing them to go to local pharmacies to sign up for the vaccine. This directive is seen as a step in the right direction in resuming regular instruction in schools safely, with Biden emphasizing how crucial it is to get kids back inside the classrooms as soon as possible.

“I think getting as many people including our educators and school staff vaccinated as soon as possible is a great idea," Sharon Nachman, MD, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital in New York, tells Verywell. "Getting teachers and other school-based staff vaccinated will allow all schools across the nation to open and allow our students to come back full time to in-person learning—something we think is best for them."

This directive began this week, and though Biden says that not everyone will be able to book their appointment within the first week, the goal is for every educator, school staff member, and childcare worker to receive at least one shot before the end of the month through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.

“Vaccinating teachers against COVID-19 is something that needs to gain traction in the U.S.,” Melva Thompson-Robinson, DrPH, executive director of the Center for Health Disparities Research in the University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Public Health, tells Verywell. “The priority populations for getting the vaccine has been 70 and now 65 years of age in some communities. If the average age of teachers is 42.4 years of age, then they don't meet that qualification,” she says.

Prior to Biden's announcement, more than 30 states were already prioritizing educators for the vaccine. However, there are plenty of factors affecting their vaccination.

What This Means For You

If you are an educator, school staff member, or childcare worker, you are now eligible for vaccination. To check if the vaccine is available near you, call your local pharmacy or visit the CDC's website for a list of pharmacy partners in your state. You can also check for available appointments near you.

Barriers to Teachers’ Vaccination 

While Biden announced that educators should be prioritized for vaccination, that doesn't mean all teachers will be vaccinated any time soon.

“There are many layers of barriers when trying to get people vaccinated," Nachman says. "These include access issues, state to state differences in ability to get an appointment in a timely fashion, and of course vaccine hesitancy."

Vaccine Availability and Accessibility

Throughout the country, vaccine availability remains an issue because there simply aren’t enough doses for everyone yet. “The factors that hinder teachers from getting vaccinated are similar to those that a lot of Americans face right now," Thompson-Robinson says. "We have an issue with vaccine supply. In some parts of the country, there is not enough vaccine available, which has resulted in prioritization of who gets vaccinated."

However, this is changing quickly as vaccine supply increases, Chris Beyrer, MD, Desmond M. Tutu Professor of Public Health and Human Rights from the department of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland, tells Verywell. According to a White House press briefing, Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccine supply will increase to more than 20 million doses per week.

The recent Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the U.S. also increases vaccine supply.

“It would be great if this initiative resulted in all of our school staff—including teachers—having access to a COVID-19 vaccine," Nachman says. "However, we need to make sure that there is enough vaccine in the pipeline for these individuals and that they will not face new barriers when they try to get their appointment for vaccination."

Even with the prioritization of all school staff, if booking an appointment requires them to spend long hours on the phone or online, vaccine centers aren’t easily accessible to them, and they can’t take a day off to account for their body’s reaction to the vaccine, then vaccination is still not accessible.

According to Nachman, any barrier preventing simple access to vaccines becomes a factor, especially since vaccination requirements vary within states and even counties.

Vaccine Hesitancy

Hesitancy due to the fear of the vaccine’s potential effects is still widespread. “We are still seeing that there are pockets of people in our community who have concerns about getting the vaccine for a variety of reasons,” Thompson-Robinson says. “There has been significant fear of the unknown of getting a vaccine. People want to know if it will make them sick and what are the side effects. Communication around these issues has not trickled down to all parts of the community.”

To address vaccine hesitancy and increase vaccine confidence, the COVID Collaborative and the Ad Council launched the "It's Up to You" vaccine education advertisement campaign in February. More recently, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Black Coalition Against COVID also launched THE CONVERSATION: Between Us, About Us, an initiative providing accessible information from trusted medical professionals to address vaccine hesitancy in Black communities, which roots from mistrust of and trauma at the hands of healthcare systems. 

Vaccine hesitancy due to religious concerns also factors in. “There are some religious, specifically Catholic concerns, about the fact that fetal tissue cultures were used to develop the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. The Pope has approved the use of the vaccine, but some American Catholic schools may be unwilling to use this product,” Beyrer says.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith put out a statement saying, “it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.”

What this Means For School Reopenings

The vaccination of teachers isn’t a prerequisite for the safe reopening of schools, according to a White House press briefing last February. However, though vaccinations aren’t a prerequisite, they still give a much-needed layer of protection to ensure the safety of educators, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, tells Verywell.

The Biden administration has rightly prioritized educators alongside other essential workers, which is a significant development towards in-school learning. “We want nothing more than learning to resume as close to normal as possible in the next school year," Weingarten adds. "That requires us to continue to mask up and get shots in arms."

“I personally would like to see educators and school staff vaccinated as a part of plans and protocols for safely reopening schools,” Thompson-Robinson says. “I would also like to see schools implement the other safety protocols that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have outlined, such as social distancing and wearing face masks. When schools can implement these plans effectively, then schools should reopen in my opinion.”

According to Beyrer, it is possible for school systems to require staff to get vaccinated before returning, but only after full U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. “Many workplaces do mandate other vaccines, like flu, so this could happen in the future,” he adds. At the moment, three of the current COVID-19 vaccines being used only have emergency use authorizations, not FDA approval or licensure.

The vaccination of teachers and school staff has a major impact on the safe return to in-class education, and it’s an urgent priority because students have lost time and social growth during the pandemic, Beyrer says.

Vaccination Is Only Part of the Solution

Although the vaccination of school staff is a major factor in the reopening of schools, it doesn’t solve all the challenges that schools are currently facing. 

“Unfortunately, in most communities, schools were underfunded and overcrowded before the pandemic," Thompson-Robinson says. "Coming back after the pandemic to social distance and provide cleaning resources will be a financial hardship for schools in some communities. Resources, realistic strategies, and creative thinking are needed to help address these challenges.”

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) Fund has $13.2 billion in funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was passed in March 2020. The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act of 2021 that was signed into law last December 2020 also provided a $54.3 billion additional funding, labeled as the ESSER II Fund.

To help elementary and secondary schools address and deal with the impact of COVID-19, the Department of Education will award these grants to state and local educational agencies. 

“I think vaccinating educators and staff is only one part of the equation," Nachman says. "Getting these vaccines into parents and children across the ages will be critical if we are to ever stop this infection from continuing to spread. The more we vaccinate, the fewer cases of infection transmission will occur and thus the better off we will all be—that is the definition of community protection.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The White House. Remarks by President Biden on the Administration’s COVID-19 Vaccination Efforts.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Understanding the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination.

  3. National Center for Education Statistics. Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) 2011-12.

  4. The White House. Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials.

  5. Food & Drug Administration. FDA Issues Emergency Use Authorization for Third COVID-19 Vaccine.

  6. North Dakota Department of Health. COVID-19 Vaccines & Fetal Cell Lines.

  7. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines.

  8. The White House. Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials.

  9. Office of Elementary & Secondary Education. Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.

By Carla Delgado
Carla M. Delgado is a health and culture writer based in the Philippines.