Maine is opening up coronavirus vaccine eligibility to school staff and childcare providers following a directive from the Biden administration Tuesday that has prompted several states to realign their distribution priorities to include educators.
Gov. Janet Mills announced Wednesday that preK-12 school staff and child care providers will be eligible for the vaccine regardless of age, in a departure from the state’s previously announced plans to follow a tiered age-based approach.
School staff and licensed childcare workers can now access appointments through participants in the federal retail pharmacy program, which includes Hannaford, Walgreens and Walmart pharmacies in Maine. Other vaccine clinics also also begin accepting appointments for school staff and licensed childcare workers as soon as they are able, the governor’s office said in a news release.
“I share the president’s desire to vaccinate school staff and child care workers as quickly as possible, just as I want to see all Maine people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Mills said in a press release. “Based on the president’s directive, we are updating our plan today to make school staff and child care workers eligible. We will continue to work day and night with our health care providers to get shots into as many arms as possible, as quickly as possible, focusing our efforts on those most at risk of dying if they contract the virus.”
Maine’s announcement comes just a few days after the state said it would be prioritizing vaccinations based on age. The Maine Education Association pushed back on those plans in a letter to the governor Monday, saying many educators were distraught and angry to not be prioritized for vaccines.
On Tuesday, President Biden called on states to prioritize educators for vaccination and challenged them to administer at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine to all educators and childcare workers by the end of the month. Several states, including Texas, Washington, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, responded with updated plans to prioritize educators.
Maine will be using a federal definition of school staff and licensed childcare workers to determine eligibility. That means workers at pre-primary, primary and secondary schools, Head Start and Early Head Start programs, including teachers, staff and bus drivers and those who work for or are licensed child care providers, including center-based and family care providers.
There are about 36,400 school staff and 16,000 childcare providers that will become newly eligible for vaccinations under those definitions, in addition to 10,632 school staff over the age of 60 who were already eligible for vaccines under the age-tiered system.
Under the new federal policy, participants in the federal retail pharmacy program are directed to give access to available appointments exclusively to school staff and childcare workers moving forward. Already scheduled appointments made by people 60 and older will not be canceled, though the state said the directive from the federal government could slow its timeframe for vaccinating people age 60 and older if supply of vaccine does not increase.
Under the plan released last week Maine is currently vaccinating residents age 60 and older and is scheduled to open vaccinations for those 50 and older in April, those 40 and older in May and those 30 and older in June. It is estimated vaccines would open to those 29 and younger in July.
President Biden, however, also said Tuesday that vaccine production has ramped up to the point where all eligible adults will have access to vaccines by the end of May, which could prompt Maine to revise its timeline.
This story will be updated.