The new year brought the country a new president who not only values integrity and transparency but supports public education and honors teachers. That change in leadership is a solid foundation for the enormous work that lies ahead of us. We are still in the throes of the pandemic, and we have yet to take the full measure of the economic crisis it has created.
But with the introduction of effective vaccines for the coronavirus, we are getting closer to a return to some semblance of normalcy in our everyday lives. Getting as many people vaccinated as possible and achieving herd immunity is the only way we will get through this crisis.
But the government rollout of vaccines has been disorganized and poorly managed at all levels of government. The outgoing Trump administration lied about available stockpiles, which led to nationwide shortages, and did not properly coordinate the distribution of the vaccine supplies it did have. Lack of coordination between the state and the city also impeded the distribution of the vaccine in New York City.
The result has been chaotic as New Yorkers eligible for the vaccine have scrambled to find appointments within this patchwork of different distribution systems. Thousands of UFT members who booked vaccinations early on with city vaccine sites had their appointments canceled at the last minute when the city’s vaccine supply ran out in late January.
Incredibly, Black and Latino New Yorkers hit hardest by COVID-19 have been the least likely to get access to the vaccines. “Vaccine hunters” with resources and the ability to travel are also taking vaccine intended for New York City residents in high-need neighborhoods.
These stories should enrage everyone. It’s the kind of dysfunction that gives people reason to lose confidence in the government’s ability to do anything right.
It didn’t have to be that way. The UFT’s own vaccine program shows what is possible with sound planning. We set out to create an orderly process to accelerate the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to our members who wanted to be vaccinated.
Given the vaccine shortage, we gave priority to in-service members who currently have an in-person school assignment. We wanted an efficient system that wasted no time in getting our interested members immunized and we wanted to make sure we left no vaccine sitting on the shelf.
We launched our program on Jan. 10 with an email to all in-service educators asking them to fill out an online survey to indicate their assignment, their location and willingness to travel, and their interest in being vaccinated.
We then match interested members with either NYU Langone Health or EmblemHealth’s AdvantageCare Physicians, which eliminates the need for members to search for vaccine locations on their own. We only make a match when we have identified a vaccine provider with available vaccines so our members do not have to fear that their appointments will be canceled.
As of early February, 27,000 UFT members have told us that they want the vaccine and 13,000 have been matched with a vaccine provider.
The shortage of vaccines has been our biggest obstacle, but we continue to match our members weekly as our health care partners receive new shipments of vaccines. Our goal is to match all our interested members as soon as we can.
The good news is that we now have a president who takes the pandemic seriously. In his first weeks in office, President Joe Biden focused on creating a national strategy to fight the virus, including ramping up the vaccine supply.
We have a long road ahead of us as we begin to dig out from the devastation of this pandemic. But at long last, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Right now, the plan is to reopen 6th-, 7th- and 8th-grade classrooms for students on Feb. 25 and, God willing, we will all be safely back in our schools in September.
Thank you for all you do.