Health officials consider prioritizing vaccines for teachers

people waiting in line for a vaccine
People wait in line to get the Moderna Covid-19 vaccination. A total of 771 people received vaccines at the Anchorage School District Education Center on Jan. 7, 2021. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska health officials say that they’re considering moving teachers up on Alaska’s vaccine list as students head back to classrooms in large numbers.

Tessa Walker Linderman, a top vaccine official with the Department of Health and Social Services, made the announcement about possibly elevating teachers at a briefing with reporters Thursday.

“This is a conversation that’s being had. We don’t have anything official to report just yet, but conversations are happening about what these tiers will look like going forward,” she said.

So far, Alaska has put health care workers and elders at the top of its vaccine list.

Teachers 50 and older, along with those that have two or more high-risk health conditions, are among the next groups in line, along with other essential workers. But some parents and educators have questioned why a broader group of teachers can’t be vaccinated sooner.

Dianne Shibe, president of the Mat-Su teachers union, said her members aren’t lobbying to jump ahead of elders. But she says there’s a sense that they should be prioritized in the next group.

“These people are in there, dedicated to in-person learning, but at the same time knowing and fearing that they could get this virus,” she said. 

State officials say conversations about teacher vaccinations are happening both in the Dunleavy administration, and among a scientific and medical advisory committee that’s helped develop Alaska’s vaccine policy.