The announcement from the DSHS follows a federal directive received March 2 ordering states to make vaccines immediately available to educators, specifically those who work in "pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools, as well as Head Start and Early Head Start programs," including teachers, staff and bus drivers. Licensed child care providers are also included in the directive.
"The Department of Health and Human services has determined that teachers, school staff and child care workers hold jobs that are critical to the continued functioning of society and are at potential occupational risk of exposure to [COVID-19]," acting HHS Secretary Norris Cochran said in a letter to state health agencies.
According to the DSHS, vaccine providers throughout the state have been informed of the change but are encouraged to continue to prioritize adults over the age of 65 in their immunization efforts. A letter from the DSHS to vaccine providers also asks them to track the number of education and child care employees who are vaccinated and prepare to report that information to the DSHS daily.
Educators and school staff throughout Texas have lobbied to be included among the first groups of people vaccinated since the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were authorized by the federal Food and Drug Administration in December. Until now, only those teachers who are over the age of 65 or have high-risk medical conditions were able to receive vaccines.
The updated guidance comes a day after Gov. Greg Abbott announced he would lift his statewide order to wear masks effective March 10. On March 3, the Texas Education Agency announced public school districts would be permitted to keep their masking policies in place, or could choose to remove a mask mandate.
"Local school boards have full authority to determine their local mask policy," the TEA said in a statement.
The Texas Association of Educators voiced their support of the move to vaccinate school employees, especially considering the permission the TEA gave districts to opt out of mask requirements.
"As we have long said, providing educators with vaccine access will only make it easier for Texas public schools to fully resume normal operations," ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes said in statement. "We encourage every Texas educator and school employee who wants the vaccine to get it."