Truman faculty demand vaccines

Truman State University’s American Association of University Professors chapter and other teachers across Missouri are requesting higher prioritization for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Missouri’s current COVID vaccination plan has been broken into phases. Phase 1B Tier two is the current phase, which includes those 65 or older and those with underlying health conditions. Pre K-12 faculty and staff and those who work in childcare are included in Phase 1B Tier three. Higher education faculty and staff are included in Phase 2.

Truman’s AAUP is requesting Gov. Mike Parson move higher education faculty and staff to Phase 1B Tier three with K-12 faculty and staff.

“For the sake of the students of today and productive citizens of tomorrow, we call upon Governor Parson to address this clear inequity by placing Higher Education faculty and staff in the same vaccination tier as K-12 teachers and employees,” Truman’s AAUP chapter wrote in an online statement.

Truman’s AAUP endorsed a petition with seven other universities from Missouri and Kansas to request Gov. Parson move higher education to the priority tier. The petition currently has over 600 signatures.

The petition also requests Kansas higher education faculty and staff be included in Phase 2.

“72% of the nation’s states afford higher-education employees the same vaccination status as pre-K-12 employees,” the petition states. 

AAUP chapter officer Bill Alexander said he thinks it is a gross oversight that higher education is included in Phase two.

He said this is a more considerable oversight for large schools with many students in a class, such as the University of Missouri or Missouri State University

“These schools have hundreds of people in a classroom,” Alexander said. “They can’t get back to normal without this type of vaccine.”

Alexander said he is not sure if any change will occur, but he thinks it is worth a shot. 

The AAUP has brought about change before. In July, they requested faculty endorsement of measures such as requesting a mask mandate and sanitation protocols.

“It’s got a better shot than doing nothing,” Alexander said. “If we did nothing, we wouldn’t be vaccinated until probably the summer at the earliest.” 

Student Government also passed a resolution Feb. 7 calling upon the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Bureau of Immunization to categorize higher education faculty and staff in Phase 1B Tier three.

The resolution also encourages other public universities in Missouri to pass similar resolutions.

Kiren MacLeod, student government external affairs committee chair, brought forward this resolution because the current phase goes against Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and there is a lack of explanation.

Professor David Gillette lectures ECON 205 Principles of Economics. Truman State University’s local chapter of American Association of University Professors has released a statement demanding a higher level of priority for the COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by Bidan Yang

MacLeod said the resolution itself does not make a policy change, but it calls upon the Missouri government to change its policy.

“That being said, we are sending this resolution to officials at all levels of government as well as other public universities across the state, so we hope to make sure that other groups work to advocate on this issue,” MacLeod said.

Jim LeBaron, Adair County Health Department administrator, said Missouri is currently not vaccinating any teachers. He has been asked by the state to not continue to Phase 1B Tier three yet and to wait for the state to move as a whole.

LeBaron said he is unsure why higher education faculty and staff are not included with pre-K-12 in Phase 1B Tier three.

“My guess is that transmission with students and them living with their families is a factor why higher education is not listed in this tier,” LeBaron said.

The Missouri National Education Association, a professional teachers association, sent a letter to Gov. Parson calling for teachers’ current vaccination, as it will support a return to in-person teaching.

Missouri NEA President Phil Murray states in the letter that teachers in Missouri have worked hard to continue teaching students during the COVID pandemic. Still, it feels like they are being neglected.

“Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky and Nebraska are all currently vaccinating educators, with Oklahoma announcing they will begin doing so in six days,” Murray stated. “If these states can prioritize vaccinating educators to resume full in-person instruction safely, why can’t Missouri?”

Five recent Missouri Teachers of the Year also sent a letter to Randall Williams, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services director, asking for education faculty and staff to be included in the current vaccination tier.

The letter states that 94.49% of Missouri state-funded schools are offering in-person learning options.

Three out of the five teachers who wrote the letter contracted COVID, with the letter stating that exposure at school was the likely cause.

“Twenty-six states are choosing to vaccinate educators immediately, including seven of our eight bordering states,” the letter states. “Policymakers and community leaders have asked school buildings to be open. Missouri teachers and support staff are doing what has been asked of us. We ask that you now do the right thing.”

Williams responded in a statement, stating that Missouri is continuing to focus on senior citizens, healthcare workers, first responders and those who have underlying health conditions.