Calling classroom teachers “first responders,” the head of New Hampshire’s largest teachers union said Friday that “educators should be vaccinated before the schools can reopen safely,” a claim Gov. Chris Sununu calls “100 percent false.”
During a Friday interview on NHPR’s The Exchange, NEA-NH President Megan Tuttle told host Peter Biello teachers should be prioritized for vaccines over people in high-risk groups, such as the elderly and frontline healthcare providers.
“We should have been in Phase 1,” Tuttle insisted, later adding: “We are essential workers…We’re considered essential workers and we’re considered first responders when it comes to school violence.
“When we have to learn how to tie tourniquets on kindergarteners so that we can save lives when it comes to school violence, all of a sudden when it comes to vaccinations, education in New Hampshire is not being valued,” Tuttle said.
Tuttle’s union has been fighting to keep teachers out of classrooms since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Gov. Sununu and the state’s Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut, on the other hand, have been encouraging local school districts to follow data showing the risk of spread in classrooms is low — particularly students in grades K-8.
During Thursday’s COVID-19 presser, Sununu took a no-nonsense approach, slamming the NEA-NH for injecting politics into the vaccine debate. “It’s become clear, frankly, that there’s a lot of leadership within the teachers union — as well as some in local leadership — who have politicized the vaccination process. They’re criticizing that the state has prioritized our first responders.”
On Friday, Tuttle denied Sununu’s charge. “We’re not politicizing anything. But getting the educators in New Hampshire vaccinated is going to get the schools open quicker and safely,” adding she has “educators that don’t feel safe.”
Tuttle also attacked the governor for putting members of New Hampshire’s ski patrol on the Phase 1B list. When NHPR’s Biello pointed out ski patrol members are EMTs who provide direct care to injured people, Tuttle replied, “Skiing is a luxury activity at this point.”
The New Hampshire Region Ski Patrol reports they have 500 members, while the NEA-NH claims to have 17,000.
Numbers are relevant because, as NHJournal has reported, the state already has 325,000 people in Phase 1B, but only expects to receive 300,000 doses of vaccine by the beginning of March. To accommodate classroom teachers, other Granite Staters would go to the back of the line.
Tuttle acknowledged that fact, but she said “essential” teachers should go first.
“If they want the schools to reopen and they want the communities to get back to normal and they want the economy and the communities to get back to what we were pre-COVID, we need to be vaccinated,” Tuttle said.
Even without the teachers in the Phase 1B group, demand for the vaccines was sky high when the sign-up window opened Friday morning.
“In the first 20 minutes, NH has registered over 20,000 vaccine registrations for folks in Phase 1B,” Sununu tweeted. “1,000 vaccine registrations a minute.”