Like much else in America these days, the pandemic response has been politicized. That encourages deviation from scientific best practices, but then again a worrisome amount of science also has been politicized.
When federal and state governments chose to make complex lists of eligibility for COVID-19 vaccinations, political considerations were sure to become a factor.
Here’s one example. In December, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices put police and firefighters in the same vaccination priority category as teachers and other school staff, grocery store employees and postal workers.
In New Jersey, however, Gov. Phil Murphy decided to put police and firefighters into the highest eligibility group with health-care and nursing-home workers, people over 65 and those with medical conditions that increase their COVID risk. Others in the CDC-designated group had to wait for eligibility.
Many schools have offered mostly or only inferior and harmful online instruction for nearly a year, despite clear guidance from the nation’s leading health authorities and researchers that classrooms should be open with proper distancing procedures, that children are safer and far better off in school than out of it, and that closing schools sacrifices the education and even future earnings of students.
Pressure to reopen schools has become intense, and the education establishment and surely many parents want to prioritize vaccinating teachers and other school staff to support that. The CDC, however, made it clear that vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for reopening.
The Egg Harbor Township School Board joined the cause recently, asking the state to prioritize teachers for immunization.
Some or all teachers in 28 states are already eligible for vaccinations, since priority lists and the progress of vaccination campaigns vary. Teachers and child-care providers are eligible in Delaware’s current phase, but not yet in Pennsylvania (except for Philadelphia County, which has its own priorities).
On Monday, Murphy announced that New Jersey K-12 educators, support staff and childcare workers will be eligible for COVID vaccination as of March 15, along with many government employees and migrant farm workers.
Two weeks later eligibility will extend to food, hospitality, postal, judicial and many other work groups.
This order of eligibility also isn’t based on science or federal recommendations. At least teachers only get moved up the vaccination line two weeks, limiting the unfairness to grocery store, postal and other essential workers in the same CDC risk category who have remained on the job throughout the pandemic.
More worrisome, though, is that many seniors 65 and older — the group most at risk to severe illness and death from COVID-19 — still haven’t been able to get immunized under New Jersey’s disorganized and easily gamed vaccination system. Soon they’ll have even more competition for a shot that is lifesaving to them.
All of New Jersey will lose from Murphy’s slow, inefficient and less than scientific vaccine rollout. The widespread pandemic relief that is coming soon to other states will be delayed here.