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Ohio preschool, daycare teachers left wondering where they fit in DeWine’s vaccine rollout

CINCINNATI — Linda Staley cannot wait to have preschoolers back in the classroom at These Precious Hands Child Development Center in Avondale. That's why she was disappointed to learn that phase 1B of Ohio's COVID-19 vaccination rollout plan, which includes teachers, excludes childcare facilities outside the K-12 parameters.

Staley said she understands prioritizing schoolchildren.

"I'm thinking they want to get all the children back in school, get the vaccine so they can stay in school," Staley told WCPO. "I'm just hoping and praying that we get vaccinated very, very soon because our staff is ready."

People 75 years and older became eligible to receive the vaccine Monday, along with other individuals with certain preexisting health conditions. Staff at K-12 schools that have committed to returning to at least a blended, remote and in-person learning model by March 1 are also eligible Feb. 1, although Cincinnati Public Schools announced this week it will be able to begin vaccinating its staff by Jan. 28.

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By Feb. 15, per Ohio's vaccine schedule, any Ohioan over the age of 65, anyone who has a qualified, preexisting medical condition, anyone who teaches at a qualified K-12 school, and anyone working in health care or convalescent care will be eligible to receive the vaccine.

But that's as far out as Gov. Mike DeWine's vaccination plan looked as of Tuesday afternoon.

"We're not being fair," said Dr. O'dell Owens, CEO of Interact for Health and a member of the Ohio Minority Vaccine Task Force. "We're telling preschool teachers and daycare teachers that they have to wait."

Owens meets with the task force weekly and said the decision to exclude preschools and daycare centers is inconsistent with decisions made at the start of the pandemic last spring.

"Last year in March and April, we were shutting down, and they closed schools except for what? Preschools. Daycare," he said. "They said, 'No, you must stay open in order to take care of the essential workers and first responders so they can go to work.'"

Inoculating pre-K educators in Phase 1B does not align with the state’s goals in this early stage of vaccinations, DeWine said during a news conference Tuesday.

“We try to stay focused, as long as we have such a limited amount of vaccine, to the question of how we can save the most lives with this limited amount of vaccine. The other thing that our goal is, we’ve been very clear, and that is children K-12, getting them back in school,” DeWine said.

However, DeWine indicated that pre-K vaccinations could be re-evaluated in the future.

“Certainly our early childhood teachers, our early childhood providers do a great job. And we’ll continue to evaluate this situation as we move forward,” DeWine said.

Staley remained hopeful that she and her staff of five will be among the next group announced as part of the ongoing plan to roll out the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

"Hopefully we'll be the next batch that go out," she said.

Meanwhile, Staley said her staff has remained healthy, with access to free COVID-19 testing every week through an early childhood education group.

Her daycare, on the other hand: "We just been taking it one day at a time."

WCPO 9 Statehouse News Bureau Fellow Nathan Hart contributed to this story.

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