Date Posted

With the recent expansion of vaccine eligibility to include teachers, there has been a lot of issues with teachers getting appointments or having their appointments canceled. NYSUT is working on this issue and below is a letter that they sent to NY State Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.

Dear Dr. Zucker,

As President of the New York State United Teachers, representing over 600,000 members working in schools and higher education institutions, I am writing to you regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and phase 1b.

Our members were elated when the governor announced that individuals in phase 1b, which includes education professionals, would be eligible to schedule an appointment to obtain the COVID-19 vaccination starting on January 11. The announcement tasked local unions with vaccinating members with the help of local health departments. However, clear guidance as to the role and responsibilities of the union and local health departments was needed. Since this announcement, we have encouraged our members to use the state website to schedule appointments to access the vaccine as well as reach out to their local health departments.

Unfortunately, it seems this has caused confusion and created headaches at the local level with regard to how local union leaders can work with their local health departments.

For example, a January 21, 2021, bulletin from Putnam County directed both unions and employers to contact county officials if employers of essential workers did not receive a registration link for a county-run clinic. Aside from duplicative instruction, we are unaware of whether the county has reached out to unions with proper information on how essential employees should register for their vaccine appointments and how they can coordinate prioritization.

While we are appreciative of the state’s efforts to address such problems upfront by hosting a webinar on January 11 for unions and others, clarification was needed about union's role in the vaccination efforts.

In lieu of local coordination, many members have signed up for vaccination clinics, only to be told at the last minute their appointments have been canceled. Recently, members on Long Island were scheduled to obtain the vaccine at Stony Brook, had their appointments canceled, then had those appointments rescheduled, only to have them canceled yet again the evening before their appointed time. This incident goes beyond just frustration, it sows distrust among those who are ready, willing, and able to get immunized.

We have been flooded with calls and emails from our members who are ready and anxious to receive the vaccine, but they are frustrated by the hurdles and confusion that prevent them from obtaining the shot. We agree that coordination and communication between local unions and their respective local departments of health can be a vital aspect in maximizing the number of educators who are immunized, pursuant to availability. However, the current system has left educators scouring the state’s website for open slots and in many cases traveling to other counties or regions of the state.

To date, our local unions have not received clear guidance from the state or their local departments of health on how they can create and support vaccination efforts. In the continued absence of clear guidance from the state that outlines the roles and responsibilities of the local health department and the unions, confusion and frustration will ensue. We call on theNew York State Department of Health (NYSDOH)to step in and work with local departments of health to ensure that effective educator vaccination efforts are occurring across the state.

I look forward to your response and working with NYSDOH to ensure that all educators have access to the vaccine in their communities.

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