Social Sciences

The science behind not prioritizing teacher vaccinations

Written by Mamie M. Arndt

Published: 1/31/2021 6:00:06 AM

One feels compelled to respond to the Jan. 25 “My Turn” by three of our state representatives attempting to make the case for vaccinating teachers in Phase 1.

The piece very clearly identifies the need to vaccinate vulnerable populations, then makes a passionate argument that teachers should be prioritized in this category, without any objective data supporting their case.

This appears to be one more disconcerting case of elected officials ignoring scientific data to make emotionally based populist claims.

The facts are these: When one looks at the data from private schools across the United States, 80% of which are still in-person, there has been insignificant community spread as a result. Additionally, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, citing a case-controlled study done in Mississippi, school environments with adequate precautions are safer than exposure to local community spread, concluding that: “Having attended gatherings and social functions outside the home, as well as having had visitors in the home, was associated with increased risk of infection; however, in-person school attendance during the 14 days prior to diagnosis was not.”

Simply put, your turkey dinner over the holidays was more dangerous than in-person school, if you had guests.

This JAMA article also cites data from two large school districts open for weeks, involving thousands of students, with zero student-teacher transmission and remarkably less student-to-student transmission than the prevailing community transmission. One can also cite multiple studies from around the world that have had similar outcomes.

The real data out there clearly supports not only opening schools, but also indicate no need for teacher vaccination as a requirement. (Note that the cases cited were all done before any vaccine was available.) An additional point made in the JAMA article: School athletics definitely do increase community spread, presumably through the maskless contact we see every day on the sports pages of the Concord Monitor.

A lot of our teachers made the choice to go against CDC guidelines and travel over the holidays in numbers that caused staff shortages with associated isolation requirements. That was certainly their right, but it exposed them to remarkably higher risk than in-person school. To then demand highest priority for vaccinations seems rather inconsistent at best.

Gov. Chris Sununu clearly has looked at the objective data and has made the right decision, despite any communication errors that may have offended some. Having said that, one gets very tired of strident demands for special treatment without any basis in reality.

As critical as in-person education is, we need to get moving on the environmental, logistical issues, and existing risks (sports?) that present barriers to getting back in the classroom. Objectively, teacher vaccination just does not appear to be one of them.

(Dr. Jon Pearse lives in Concord.)

About the author

Mamie M. Arndt