WASHINGTON — Vice President Kamala Harris stressed Wednesday that teachers should be given priority for getting Covid-19 vaccinations, but wouldn’t say if she believed that giving them the shots should be a prerequisite for reopening schools.
In her first live one-on-one network interview since taking office, Harris was asked by "TODAY" show anchor Savannah Guthrie whether she could reassure teachers that it would be safe for them to go back to school even if they’re not vaccinated.
“Teachers should be a priority,” said Harris, adding that teachers “are critical to our children's development, they should be able to teach in a safe place and expand the minds and the opportunities of our children. So teachers should be a priority along with other front-line workers.”
Harris said fewer than half the states are prioritizing teachers right now to receive the vaccine.
Guthrie noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has put out guidance saying that teachers do not have to be vaccinated to go back to school.
Asked again if it’s safe for teachers to return to the classroom without being vaccinated, Harris said that states have to decide whether they can institute safe measures, such as social distancing. She emphasized that the key to ensuring that those measures are in place is Congress passing another Covid-19 relief package.
“They should be a priority,” Harris said about teachers getting vaccinated, “And the states are making decisions individually about where they will be on the list of who gets vaccinated.”
States are wrestling with the situation as infectious disease experts say schools are not a major source of Covid-19 transmission but many teachers unions oppose reopening them.
During a Wednesday briefing, the White House's lead Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said that while President Joe Biden and the vice president believe teachers should be placed at the head of the line along with other frontline workers, they both agree with the CDC guideline that vaccinating them is "not a requirement to reopening schools."
The CDC has also released guidance that says the reopening of schools should be tied to the rate of infection in communities. Under that metric, Guthrie said as many as 90 percent of schools might not be able to reopen.
When asked, Harris wouldn't say if it a mistake for the CDC to make the recommendation, but only said that it's merely a recommendation "about how to reopen safely if they've been closed, how to stay open if they've been opened."
The vice president also repeated Biden's statement from Tuesday night at a CNN town hall that his administration's goal is to get as many K-8 schools reopened within the first 100 days of his presidency, allowing students to attend class five days a week.
"The issue here is not just about statistics — it's about our kids, it's about their parents," Harris said. "It's about the fact that every day our kids are missing essential, critical days in their educational development."
"Each day in the life of a child is a very long time," she continued, "And that's why we've got to collectively do everything in our power to reopen our schools as quickly as possible, as safely as possible."