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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Vaccine envy: Some areas took advantage of extra doses and prioritized teachers

Local Black panelists aimed to dispel historically rooted distrust of vaccines at a virtual event Saturday.   (Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Teachers are nervous and frustrated.

They want to be in the classroom face-to-face with living, and yes – breathing – students. But they also want to feel safe, and nothing short of a COVID-19 vaccine can accomplish that.

However, through a combination of political decisions, geography and plain bad luck, most teachers don’t have their shots and have no reasonable prospect of obtaining them soon.

That is, unless they teach in Idaho. Or Oregon. Or north of the Spokane County line, where anyone who wanted the vaccine received it six weeks ago.

With secondary students set to return to Spokane Public Schools on March 1, vaccine envy and resentment is spreading.

So are the rumors.

The latest, which spread through the rank and file of the local teachers union: Staff at Pride Prep, a Spokane charter school, cut the line and received vaccines.

“Absolutely not true,” Pride Prep Superintendent Brenda McDonald said.

“Staff that are eligible are getting vaccines,” McDonald said.

Statewide, the rules are clear. Under guidelines set last month by Gov. Jay Inslee, the only teachers currently eligible for the vaccine are those who meet the same guidelines as the general public – 65 and older or living in a multigenerational household, such as grandparents living with their children and grandchildren.

The only exception: teachers and staff who work with students who are unable to wear a mask.

However, there were exceptions to the exceptions.

Early in January, before the state clarified its vaccination priorities, the Tri-County Health District found itself with more doses than it could dispense.

“We had reached our obligations,” said Matt Schanz, chief administrator of the health district. Those obligations included health care workers, first responders and people older than 65 living in Stevens, Pend Oreille and Ferry counties.

“We had extra doses that would have gone to waste,” Schanz said Thursday. “There is no way we were going to let them expire.”

So Schanz’s team moved swiftly. They called school administrators and arranged to distribute the shots.

“We were very fortunate that they happened to have some extra vaccine,” said Kevin Young, superintendent of the Republic School District.

Vaccines also reached the Nine Mile Falls School District, which straddles Spokane and Stevens counties, meaning that employees of the small school district living in Spokane also received doses.

A similar scenario almost occurred earlier this month in Whitman County. Having vaccinated all those eligible, the county was prepared to vaccinate its teachers.

However, that plan was scuttled after Gov. Jay Inslee threatened to withhold future shipments to Whitman County.

Faced with that ultimatum, the county shipped its extra doses to neighboring counties.

“Our county is being punished for being efficient, because they have done a great job at delivering the vaccine,” Matt McLain, principal of Rosalia Schools, told KHQ. “The question I have, is this a pandemic or is it not? If it’s a pandemic, let’s treat it like a pandemic and get it in the arms and the hands of people that need it, period.”

Jeremy Shay, president of the Spokane Education Association, has offered the same message for weeks.

“It’s disheartening for our staff who want to be vaccinated,” said Shay, who has been working with teachers and staff to prepare for the return of secondary students on March 1.

“It doesn’t help that we’re surrounded by states that are prioritizing teachers,” Shay said.