Biden orders states to prioritize vaccinations for teachers; sets one-shot target by end-March

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on Tuesday ordered U.S. states to prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations for teachers to ensure children could return to school quickly and safely, and called for every educator to receive at least one shot by the end of March.

Standing in front of a portrait of former President Abraham Lincoln, U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the Biden administration’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic response in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 2, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Biden also announced that Merck & Co Inc will help make rival Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine, a partnership similar to those seen during World War Two.

With three vaccines now available, Biden said he was confident there would be enough vaccines available for each adult in the United States by the end of May.

He also said he was confident of reaching his goal of delivering 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office.

“Today’s announcements are a huge step in our effort to beat this pandemic,” Biden said in a televised statement from the White House. “But I have to be honest with you. This fight is far from over.”

He said increased production of three vaccines would boost the effort to reopen U.S. schools, citing growing mental health concerns and the risk of widening disparities caused by the challenges of remote learning.

Biden said over 30 states had already taken steps to ensure educators were vaccinated, and said he was using the full authority of the federal government to direct the remaining states to follow suit.

“My challenge is this: we want every educator, school staff member, child care worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March,” he said, noting that many parents were exiting the labor market in “astonishing numbers” to help their children learn remotely.

To meet that goal, Biden said the federal pharmacy program would prioritize the vaccination of pre-K through 12 educators and staff, as well as child care workers.

He said his goal remained to have most schools open by the end of his first 100 days in office, but said that required passage of the $1.9 trillion rescue plan currently working its way through Congress.

“Let’s treat in-person learning like an essential service that it is, and that means getting essential workers (who) provide that service – educators, school staff, childcare workers – …. vaccinated immediately,” he said.

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