By Conor McCue

(CBS4) – Vaccinations for teachers and other essential workers will be put on pause for now, because state officials say Coloradans in higher priority groups must have the opportunity first. Just last week, educators were moved from phase 2 to phase 1B in the state’s distribution plan, but on Tuesday state officials published an update on vaccination efforts.

In a letter to providers, Scott Bookman, Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Division of Disease Control and Public Health Response, said the state anticipates finishing the majority of phase 1A by Jan. 15 and moderate risk health care workers, first responders and adults 70 and older around Feb 28.

“Once we are done with these groups, we need to be ready to vaccinate front-line essential workers, including teachers and child care workers,” Bookman said.

This updated guidance regarding the vaccination order comes as some districts are bringing students back to the classrooms. Others, like the Douglas County School District, are only offering virtual learning for older students currently, with tentative plans to return to in-person classes.

Margaret Motz, a Spanish teacher at Rock Canyon High School, can’t wait for the day she can teach students in her classroom again. She said she would do so with or without a vaccination but hopes to get one before the switch.

“We keep getting moved around,” Motz said. “The sooner you vaccinate the people who work in schools, the sooner the kids will come back.”

Following the update, the Tri-County Health Department began asking health care workers to stop vaccinating some essential workers, including teachers, until higher priority groups, such as health care workers and adults over 70, have had the opportunity.

“There is a dotted line in that new distribution plan that wasn’t entirely clear what that meant when the plan was first released, and we now have learned and understand that our priority is really vaccinating all of the individuals above that dotted line,” said Karen Miller, immunization nurse manager for the Tri-County Health Department.

Last week, Cherry Creek Schools began vaccinating nurses and essential staff through a program with Centura Health. Both the company and school district tell CBS4 that any staff member who received their first shot will be guaranteed a second.

In a letter to staff Wednesday, Cherry Creek Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried said the change stops their efforts “mid-stream,” but Centura will follow the guidance provided, while honoring all current invitations and appointments in the system.

“I understand needs that exist in our larger community and fully support others in the current phase also receiving a vaccination,” Siegfried said in the letter. “I am, however, disappointed that the state is not allowing us to trust local health systems to find the right balance, develop and implement effective plans and continue to move our educators forward, while also serving others.”

In a statement Tuesday, Colorado Education Association President Amie Baca-Oehlert, said the union will continue to work with school districts and the state to “prioritize and ensure the health and safety of students and educators.”

In an interview with CBS4 on Wednesday, Baca-Oehlert said there was some disappointment and sadness among educators after the news.
“We are disappointed that the vaccine has moved further down into the spring semester, but we certainly have to do all those other protective and layering strategies to ensure safety for students and educators,” Baca-Oehlert said.

During a Wednesday morning press conference, Gov. Jared Polis was asked about how the update and said there are some people within school districts who qualify for a vaccination now.

“School nurses are very much like other school nurses in hospital COVID wards and emergency rooms eligible under 1A,” Polis said.

Under the new guidelines, most teachers and other essential workers aren’t expected to be eligible until March at the earliest.

Conor McCue