All Florida teachers regardless of age will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines under federal guidelines, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday.
Earlier this week Florida had expanded the vaccine to classroom teachers 50 and older who work in kindergarten through 12th grade. But new federal guidelines allow day care workers, preschool teachers and educators in elementary, middle and high schools to be vaccinated with no age limit.
DeSantis said the state's educators will be eligible under the federal order, but said the state's "seniors first" plan that mostly focuses on older residents has been working.
Get South Florida local news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC South Florida newsletters.
"Our view is, if you're 25, you're just at less risk than somebody that's 80, that's just the bottom line," DeSantis said at a news conference in Crystal River. "The age-based approach we think is the most effective to reduce mortality, you know at the same time, the federal government's the one sending us the vaccine, if they want it to be for all ages, then they have the ability to go and do that."
DeSantis' comments came after the CVS Pharmacy chain began vaccinating Florida teachers under age 50, in accordance with the Biden administration's guidelines. CVS is giving inoculations in two dozen cities across the state.
“We’ve aligned with updated Federal Retail Pharmacy Program guidelines by making appointments available to pre-K through 12 educators and staff and childcare workers in all 17 states where we currently offer COVID-19 vaccines," the Rhode Island-based company said in a statement.
The chain had been working with DeSantis to expand vaccine availability. Its executives held a press conference with the governor last week when the chain announced its Latino-focused subsidiaries in Miami-Dade County, Navarro Discount Pharmacies and CVS y Mas, would offer the vaccine.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program will prioritize all school staff and child care workers this month, following President Joe Biden’s directive on Tuesday. Other pharmacy chains participating in the program in Florida include Publix, Walmart and Walgreens, but it wasn't clear if they would also start vaccinating younger educators.
The Florida Education Association, the state teachers union, said it was still trying to confirm younger teachers are getting shots.
Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of the United Teachers of Dade, was able to get her shot Thursday.
“We’re super grateful because this is just another layer of the things that we need for our safety," she said. "Teachers have been asking for this. The slots are filling fast.”
Tracey Burger, a 49-year-old Miami high school English teacher, said Wednesday that she was disappointed when DeSantis announced last week that she would not make the cut. Burger has barely left her house since schools closed a year ago when the pandemic began.
Then early Wednesday a colleague alerted her that after Biden’s announcement, the CVS Health website was letting younger teachers book appointments. She got an appointment for Saturday.
“I started crying with relief that I am on my way to 95% prevention,” she said. “I will still wear my mask and keep socially distancing, but I might consider going to an outdoor restaurant or show now.”
Jennifer Milian, 41, an elementary school art teacher in Miami, said a coworker texted her early Wednesday to let her know that CVS was opening appointments to teachers of all ages.
“I almost didn’t believe it was true,” said Milian, who right away called her husband, also a teacher, and asked him to look into it. He soon sent computer screenshots with the confirmations for Thursday appointments.
“I had been on the lookout for a while to see when it would be our turn,” she said. “It turns out it was magically today.”