California is planning to start setting aside 10% of the COVID-19 vaccine the state receives each week to vaccinate teachers, day care workers and other school employees in the hopes of getting more students back in the classroom.
"It must be done, and it must be done much sooner than the current path we are on. And we believe this will advance that cause," Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday as he announced the plan at an Oakland vaccination site.
The plan will begin March 1 by setting aside about 75,000 vaccine doses from the state's current weekly allotment, Newsom said.
The vaccine will be used to inoculate "the ecosystem that is required to reopen our schools for in-person instruction," including teachers, day care workers and other public school employees, such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers, Newsom said.
Most of the state's large school districts have been teaching students remotely for most of the school year.
But 35 of California's counties are already prioritizing vaccinating teachers and other educators.
"We want to operationalize that as a standard for all 58 counties in the state," Newsom said
The announcement came a day after Newsom said a plan by Democrats in the state legislature aimed at opening schools by April 15 was not aggressive enough.
"While the Legislature's proposal represents a step in the right direction, it doesn't go far enough or fast enough," Newsom said in a statement. "I look forward to building on the growing momentum to get our schools open and continuing discussions with the legislature to get our kids back in school as safely and quickly as possible."
The issue of vaccinating teachers has become one of the most contentious issues as the nation grapples with the pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new guidelines for how schools can safely offer in-person learning recommends vaccinating school staff, but does not require it. That has drawn criticism from powerful teachers' unions.
A representative of the California Teachers Association described the 10% allotment as "an important step to ensuring teachers and school staff have access to the vaccine before opening schools and worksites for in-person instruction," according to the Los Angeles Times.
Newsom has come under fire for how he has handled the pandemic, especially for imposing strict lockdowns.
Newsom says the state can begin setting aside vaccine doses because the Biden administration has begun providing more reliable projections for how much vaccine the state receives each week.
California has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. But the move comes as the number of people getting infected by the coronavirus has finally started falling in the state, along with the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 and dying from the disease.