College professors are excluded from the COVID-19 priority phases in TN, KY

generic - mtsu
Posted at 6:24 PM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-24 21:38:02-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — While Tennessee and Kentucky are prioritizing vaccinations for educators, that doesn't extend to everyone in that field. In both states, only K-12 teachers qualify. College faculty were excluded, despite guidance to the contrary from the CDC.

"I mean, we feel dismissed, I would say," said Katie Foss, a Middle Tennessee State University professor in the College of Media and Entertainment that specializes in Health Communication. "Things should be data driven and this is clearly not."

Foss says that state health leaders have a lesson to learn about what she sees every day. "Higher education instructors teach multiple classes with a lot of pools of students coming in and out, week after week. So that’s a lot of exposure to a lot of different students," she said.

That's why she assumed Tennessee would follow CDC guidelines, recommending all educators get priority consideration for the COVID-19 vaccine, directly following healthcare workers. Instead, college professors were excluded from all priority phases. "It deliberately excludes faculty," said Foss.

So why not college professors?

The Tennessee Department of Health's spokesperson sent the following statement to NewsChannel 5:

In the case of K-12 schools, teachers and staff were prioritized due to the need to keep teachers in school to keep schools operational. Working parents need schools to be open and young children are experiencing tremendous learning loss. K-12 teachers and staff are not prioritized due to their risk of morbidity and mortality, but because of their critical infrastructure role and the need for in-person learning.

College and university students are able to learn remotely and their parents do not depend up on in-person class in order to work; therefore, university and college staff are prioritized according to their age and health condition.
Bill Christian, Tennessee Department of Health

Foss argues that college faculty are at an even greater risk because of the age of their students. "The age group of a typical college student is the age group most likely to be infected with COVID 19," she said.

If things don't change, Foss and other faculty members will have to wait until their age bracket qualifies. Just like her own students, Foss hopes state leaders are paying attention. "We are teaching too and many of us are in person, so let’s extend the same precaution to this high exposure group," said Foss.