By Caleb Park (IV)

So far, the COVID-19 vaccine distribution in New Jersey has been a complete mess. While some people are being denied their vaccines, others have been registered twice due to system errors. Distribution centers are running out of vaccines, hotlines are being overwhelmed, and one hospital in Flemington even gave out vaccines to high-paying donors. With the amount of resources that the American medical and pharmaceutical industries have, how did we get in such a perilous situation?

Along with the chaos that comes with state-level organization, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has not handled the situation well, to say the least. Instead of focusing on the thousands of deaths, Murphy has prioritized marijuana legalization and clean energy. Although “100% clean energy by 2050” is a nice goal, there are more pressing issues that need to be handled. 

The current rollout strategy for the vaccine distribution uses the website to direct people to different resources and register for the vaccine. Patients then receive doses at specified locations. The website and the distribution infrastructure have failed several times due to website issues, human error, and resource management. Unsurprisingly, many senior citizens have been unable to navigate the small-text and cluttered website, with more than twenty links on the home page. The people eligible to receive the vaccine are separated into “phases,” with people who have more urgent work and health situations being placed into early phases. Phases 1A and 1B consist of healthcare workers and high-risk patients. But where are the teachers?

Let’s make this clear: teachers are essential workers. They guide and teach kids despite the challenges of the COVID crisis. However, teachers are in a very unique position. They have arguably one of the most high-risk jobs out of all essential workers. Contrary to delivery drivers or agricultural workers, who might interact directly with only a few people every day, in-person teachers are constantly interacting with students and other faculty members. This argument is not to discredit the huge risks that other essential workers are making, but teachers definitely have a higher risk of exposure to COVID. Although the Murphy administration has plans to accommodate essential workers in the next phase of vaccine distribution (Phase 1C), there is no planned date or finalized method of action. Teachers and school faculty should be accommodated into the current phase of COVID vaccine rollout, or at least implemented into the distribution system as soon as possible. 

Vaccinating teachers would not only allow their risky situation to be put to rest, but it would also allow schools to function more smoothly. First off, students would have less risk of exposure to COVID. Although students probably have more exposure to other students than their teachers, teachers are constantly shifting between classes and groups, making it easier for the virus to spread in-between classes. Teachers also interact with students individually, making it easier for them to be a liaison for the virus to spread. Although Pingry has done an excellent job at trying to prevent the spread of COVID as much as possible, it is not completely foolproof. Also, other schools are definitely not as fortunate when it comes to exposure prevention. Vaccinated teachers would also allow more teachers to be present at school, making for a much more productive school environment and making a step towards a fully in-person school once again. 

With all the effort put into developing and producing large amounts of the vaccine, the last step should be to successfully vaccinate the right people in order to finally flatten the curve. In such a high risk environment that is school, it is only logical that teachers and faculty should be vaccinated as soon as possible in order to stop exposure to students and their families.