MIAMI – The CVS Pharmacy chain is vaccinating Florida teachers under age 50, circumventing state orders that continue to limit coronavirus inoculations to those over that age.
The chain also began vaccinating day care and preschool teachers Wednesday, even though Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has not yet opened the vaccination program to them. CVS is giving inoculations in five dozen cities across the state, including Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Flagler Beach, Palm Coast, Lake City and Gainesville
CVS said it is following Biden administration guidelines released this week, which are broader for educators than Florida's. For teachers, Florida limits the vaccine to classroom teachers 50 and older who work in kindergarten through 12th grade. The federal guidelines allow day care workers, preschool teachers and educators in elementary, middle and high schools to be vaccinated with no age limit.
“We’ve aligned with updated Federal Retail Pharmacy Program guidelines by making appointments available to pre-K through 12 educators and staff and childcare workers in all 17 states where we currently offer COVID-19 vaccines," the Rhode Island-based company said in a statement.
The chain had been working with DeSantis to expand vaccine availability. Its executives held a press conference with the governor last week when the chain announced its Latino-focused subsidiaries in Miami-Dade County, Navarro Discount Pharmacies and CVS y Mas, would offer the vaccine.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program will prioritize all school staff and child care workers this month, following President Joe Biden’s directive on Tuesday.
Walmart confirmed to News4Jax that it also is vaccinating teachers of all ages, saying it will administer “vaccines to those eligible as determined by the state and federal governments. These groups include:
· People 65 and older
· Healthcare workers
· Emergency Medical Services
· Sworn law enforcement, ages 50 and older
· Firefighters, ages 50 and older
· People, ages 16-64, with at least one high-risk medical condition as determined by a physician
As patient eligibility requirements for COVID-19 vaccines expand, we will update our internal processes and online scheduling system to reflect those changes as quickly as possible.”
Publix also released a statement Thursday saying it would expand vaccine eligibility, starting Friday, to educators of all ages in accordance with federal requirements. READ THE FULL STATEMENT
Walgreens pharmacy chains also participate in the program, but it wasn’t clear if they would also start vaccinating younger educators.
“The federal government is the one sending us the vaccine. If they want it to be for all ages, they have the ability to do that, so the pharmacies are obviously going to accommodate that, these sites will accommodate that, but our No. 1 goal right now is to get through the senior population,” DeSantis said, explaining why the state is remaining focused on older educators. “Our view is, if you’re 25, you’re just at less risk than somebody that’s 80. That’s just the bottom line. 95.7% of all COVID-related mortality has been above the age of 50, so the age-based approach, we think, is the most effective to reduce mortality.”
The Florida Education Association, the state teachers union, said it was still trying to confirm younger teachers are getting shots.
Tracey Burger, a 49-year-old Miami high school English teacher, said Wednesday that she was disappointed when DeSantis announced last week that she would not make the cut. Burger has barely left her house since schools closed a year ago when the pandemic began.
Then early Wednesday a colleague alerted her that after Biden’s announcement, the CVS Health website was letting younger teachers book appointments. She got an appointment for Saturday.
“I started crying with relief that I am on my way to 95% prevention,” she said. “I will still wear my mask and keep socially distancing, but I might consider going to an outdoor restaurant or show now.”
Jennifer Milian, 41, an elementary school art teacher in Miami, said a coworker texted her early Wednesday to let her know that CVS was opening appointments to teachers of all ages.
“I almost didn’t believe it was true,” said Milian, who right away called her husband, also a teacher, and asked him to look into it. He soon sent computer screenshots with the confirmations for Thursday appointments.
“I had been on the lookout for a while to see when it would be our turn,” she said. “It turns out it was magically today.”
Spencer reported from Fort Lauderdale.