Four Omaha-area school and city officials have joined teachers union leaders in pushing to ensure school employees get a share of COVID-19 vaccines.
In a letter Monday, the officials called on Adi Pour, health director of the Douglas County Health Department, to ensure school employees get a share of doses that departments can allocate at their discretion for various essential workers, including teachers.
Signing the letter were Omaha School Board member Spencer Head, Millard School Board member Mike Kennedy and Omaha City Council members Brinker Harding and Aimee Melton.
“We ask that you work with local school officials to develop a plan to prioritize vaccinations for educators as part of the discretionary portion of the vaccines,” they wrote.
Harding and Melton hope to offer a council resolution calling for that.
Pour was not immediately available for comment Monday.
But Chris Rodgers, president of the Douglas County Board of Health, said the county is following the priorities outlined by the state. State guidance, he said, puts first responders, utilities workers and staff of homeless shelters and corrections facilities ahead of teachers.
“The state does not give me permission to go out of the order they’ve listed,” he said.
Leaders of the Nebraska State Education Association last week appealed to Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts to ensure that local health officials were including teachers in their distribution.
Ricketts said he has given local health directors leeway to provide 10% of their state-allotted doses to other groups in Phase 1B of the distribution plan. Educators are part of that phase, along with people who are 65 and older and adults with certain high-risk medical conditions.
The governor pointed to statistics showing that the vast majority of Nebraska’s COVID-19 deaths were of people 65 and older, and said he is focused on that group.
In their letter, the Omaha officials said Douglas County has more than 115,000 K-12 students whose education cannot afford further disruption this school year. Prioritizing vaccine doses for teachers is one way to ensure that school buildings stay open and students continue to learn, they said.
They said other health districts across Nebraska have been setting aside doses for school employees for the past few weeks.
But Rodgers noted that Douglas County differs from other communities and has many large groups ahead of teachers, such as the Omaha Police Department, Omaha Public Power District, Metropolitan Utilities District, a correctional facility and at least 10 homeless shelters.
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