Schools can reopen before teachers are vaccinated, CDC chief says

A kindergarten teacher prepares her classroom for the arrival of students.
Kindergarten teacher Bridget Vorland prepares her classroom at Alta Vista Elementary School, where students in grades K through 2 were able to return this week under a waiver.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that schools can safely reopen even if teachers are not vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing by the White House COVID-19 response team.

Walensky cited CDC data showing that social distancing and wearing a mask significantly reduce the spread of the virus in school settings.


Some teachers’ unions, including United Teachers Los Angeles, have balked at resuming in-person instruction before teachers are inoculated. L.A. Unified Supt. Austin Beutner has said it is critical that health officials specifically target school employees for vaccination while campuses are closed so that this impediment to reopening is removed.

“Vaccinating school staff will help get school classrooms opened sooner,” Beutner said this week.

The harms of ongoing closures outweigh the safety risks of carefully managed classrooms, according to a regional pediatrics association. Some experts take a different view.

Feb. 3, 2021

Teachers are prioritized as “essential workers” under the CDC’s vaccination guidance, though many have yet to receive doses as the nation continues to face a shortage of the vaccine.

President Biden has pledged to ensure nearly all K-8 schools will reopen for in-person instruction in the first 100 days of his administration.

White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients called on Congress to pass additional funding to ensure schools have the resources necessary to support reopening.