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Survey: More than 8 in 10 Michigan teachers are fully vaccinated for COVID

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Ohio’s announcement that it will offer five $1 million lotteries to those who are vaccinated has prompted a debate about whether there’s a line between encouragement and coercion. (Courtesy of Heather Hazzan/Self Magazine)

More than eight in 10 Michigan public school educators are fully vaccinated from COVID-19, almost triple the rate of the state’s adults as a whole, according to a survey released Thursday by the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union.

The high immunization rate among teachers and other school employees is a likely result of Michigan prioritizing teacher immunizations in January, soon after vaccines became available, and is a welcome sign for the state’s schools amid a third coronavirus surge. Many schools had struggled to stay open last fall because of the high number of teachers who were infected or quarantined.

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The survey was conducted April 9-14, with responses from 22,000 of MEA’s roughly 120,000 members. There is no current comparison to other states, but back in March, Michigan teachers were far ahead of educators nationwide in vaccinations.

A March survey by the National Education Association showed nearly half of educators across the nation had received at least one vaccine shot, compared to nearly two-thirds of Michigan educators having received at least one dose by early February.

“These numbers are a testament to the success of Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer prioritizing school employees to receive the vaccine,” MEA President Paula Herbart said in a statement Thursday. The union is a political supporter of the Democratic governor. “That decision in early January was essential to providing more in-person learning opportunities for students.”

By March 1, about 97 percent of Michigan’s traditional K-12 school districts offered at least an option of part-time in-person learning.

But teacher vaccinations haven’t stopped schools from struggling to stay open during the recent spike. Some school districts have paused classroom learning in recent weeks, as new infections spiked among students and the surrounding communities. State health officials tied some of the surge to sports teams.

As of April 8, there were 303 new or ongoing outbreaks tied to Michigan K-12 schools and pre-K programs. (A month earlier, the outbreak number stood at 137.)

In the previous state coronavirus spike in November, Whitmer ordered middle and high schools to close between Thanksgiving and Christmas in hopes of stemming the spread. Whitmer has resisted a similar order this spring, given the broadening availability of vaccines. But she did recommend – though not mandate – that middle and high schools return to fully remote learning for a week or two after spring break.

According to the MEA survey, 82 percent of educators are fully vaccinated, and another 4 percent have had one dose or are scheduled for their first shot.

Among Michigan residents ages 16 and older, 28 percent are fully vaccinated.

While most educators got in line early for vaccinations, there remain a minority of teachers who are vaccine skeptics: 7 percent say they do not plan to get the shots against the coronavirus, and another 4 percent are unsure.

That skepticism is high in several counties that are currently being crushed by new COVID cases. In the survey, 29 percent of educators in Lapeer County said they do not plan to take the vaccine or were unsure; in Tuscola County, it was 20 percent. Both counties are in the top 10 (among the state’s 83 counties) in new cases per 100,000 over the past week.

“While most educators are vaccinated, most of our students are not and we’re concerned about their safety,” MEA’s Herbart said. “We must make the conscious choice, across our communities, to band together and fight this disease by wearing masks, keeping our distance, avoiding gatherings, getting testing and getting vaccinated. That’s the only way to ensure Michigan students can safely learn in-person."

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