FAQ:  Vaccines for Educators

Updated: Feb. 10, 2021
Disclaimer: This publication is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for specific legal or other professional advice. If you have specific questions about your legal or contractual rights, contact your Education Minnesota field representative. This guidance will be updated periodically based on new information and guidance, so please refer back to this link for the most current information.

1. Are educators prioritized for vaccination?
Yes. On Dec. 20, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted on their recommendation for Phase 1b and 1c populations prioritized to receive the vaccine due to limited supply. In its deliberations, ACIP considered scientific evidence regarding COVID-19 epidemiology, ethical principles and vaccination program implementation considerations. ACIP voted to include teachers and support staff members, as well as child care workers, in Phase 1b. 

On Jan. 18, 2021, the Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Advisory Group announced a COVID-19 vaccine clinic pilot program along with guidance for an allocation framework that assures the federal recommendations fit Minnesota’s needs. 

2. Which education staff are eligible for vaccination in the pilot program?
All pre-kindergarten through grade 12 school staff at public, nonpublic and tribal schools including staff who contract with schools like bus drivers. School-based certified centers are included in the school allocation as district employees.

3. Is there a cost to educators and school staff who receive the vaccine?
No, the vaccines administered through this program are at no cost to educators and school staff.

4. Who else is eligible for vaccination in the pilot program?
In addition to pre-kindergarten through grade 12 educators and school staff, people over the age of 65 are also eligible to be vaccinated in the pilot program. The allocation at each site is 50 percent for education and child care workers, the other 50 percent for Minnesotans aged 65 or older. The education allocation is then divided proportionally based on the percentage of the education and child care workforces in each region. 

This expansion is simply a pilot at this time; additional details on who will be included in Phase 1b will be available in coming weeks. There are many Minnesotans in front-line industries, with underlying health conditions, or at increased risk who need access to the vaccine.

5. Are higher education employees included in the pilot program?
They are not, but Education Minnesota has written a letter to Minnesota’s vaccine allocation advisory group urging that higher education faculty be prioritized within the 1b essential worker phase of vaccination. 

6. Are school and child care workers who provide patient care prioritized? 
School and child care workers who provide direct patient care, like school, child care and early childhood nurses, are in Phase 1a, priority 3. Local public health officials will be reaching out to school nurses and other staff providing direct student health care to schedule vaccinations.

7. What is an “allocation”?
One allocation is essentially one set of appointments for an individual to receive all necessary doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The number of allocations distributed per district are based on the number of eligible educators, school staff, and child care providers in a given region. The state will update the number of appointments that a district has been allocated on a periodic basis, possibly every week.

The state depends on the federal government for weekly allocations of vaccine doses. Federal vaccine allocation practices could change under the Biden administration. 

8. Does Minnesota have enough vaccine doses to vaccinate all eligible education staff in the pilot program?
No, the amount of vaccinations Minnesota has received from the federal government is not enough to vaccinate all of Minnesota’s educators. The vaccine distribution strategy will adjust as the amount of vaccine doses increases, moving from targeted groups to broader populations in a phased approach. There have also been school districts who have been offered multiple doses from a community clinic that had excess vaccine allotments, so some educators and school staff are getting vaccinated outside of the pilot program as well.

9. With limited vaccine doses, how should education staff be prioritized internally (i.e., “sub-prioritization”)?
The guidance COVID-19 Vaccines for School and Child Care Staff: Prioritization Considerations states: 

The following provides guidance on sub-prioritization of vaccination among pre-K through grade 12 staff; first based on learning model* and second based on risk criteria:

  • In-person/hybrid learning models:
    • Elementary staff
    • Staff providing school-age care
    • Early learning staff
    • Special education staff providing direct services
  • Distance learning model:
    • Staff providing school-age care
    • Special education staff providing direct services

*List order does not imply a ranking within a priority group

The risk criteria sub-prioritization was guided by the Framework for Ethical Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine, published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

  • Risk of infection: People have higher prioritization because they work or live in settings with a higher risk of transmission occurring because SARS-CoV-2 is circulating.
  • Risk of severe morbidity and mortality: People who are older and that have comorbid conditions are at higher risk of severe outcomes and death.

Note: Education and child care workers may be eligible for the vaccine under multiple priority groups – based on age, pre-existing condition, prioritized sectors, etc. They can and should follow all of these available vaccination opportunities as eligible (more information at mn.gov/vaccine).  

  • Risk of transmitting to others (at work and at home): People have higher priority because they live or work in settings where transmission is more likely to occur.
  • Risk of negative societal impact: People have higher priority due to the extent that society and other people’s lives depend on them being healthy.

Secondary staff are not expressly included in the sub-prioritization guidance, but they are still included as eligible education staff in the pilot program. 

10. What additional considerations could affect staff prioritization internally (i.e., “sub-prioritization)? 

The guidance COVID-19 Vaccines for School and Child Care Staff: Prioritization Considerations states:

Consider offering vaccine doses to staff using the following risk factors:

  • Occupational risk of exposure to COVID-19.
  • Descending age, in the following age groups:
    • 55-64 years
    • Younger than 55 years
  • Other attributes to be considered in prioritization include: people with certain medical conditions, people with disabilities and people from certain racial and ethnic minority groups who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
  • Other prioritization criteria to consider include:
    • Staff that provide direct services to students, requiring less than 6 feet distance due to the nature of the job (i.e., unable to physically distance).
    • Staff that do not have access to adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).
    • Staff in roles that are experiencing staffing shortages.
    • Staff in roles that are difficult to replace.
    • Staff that have not tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days.

11. Who decides the prioritization of eligible education staff in the pilot program? Will schools be required to negotiate prioritization with local unions? What if they refuse to negotiate?
The district is authorized to determine the prioritization of eligible staff in the pilot program. Because vaccination is not a requirement and therefore not a term of condition of employment at this time, school districts are not required to negotiate over the prioritization. We recommend that local unions and districts discuss the prioritization list in broad terms, whether using the established meet and confer process, meetings of the Incident Command Team in place during the pandemic or another collaborative discussion forum. 

Education Minnesota’s negotiations department has prepared a guide to discussing prioritization and leave associated with vaccination.

12. What if my school does not have information about me that could increase my prioritization?
This is an area where members and staff can engage districts to create systems for delivering employee information that is relevant for vaccine prioritization.

13. How do I know whether I have been selected for vaccination in the pilot program and what do I need to do if I am?
The system changed slightly for week two of the pilot. There is now just one message sent from the district that includes a link to be used to schedule both vaccine appointments. There are more links sent out than vaccines available, assuming some will elect not to take them. For these reasons, the appointments are first come, first served, and no one is guaranteed an appointment.  

14. What if I miss an appointment notification? If I decline a vaccination appointment, will I be offered one again in the future?
We assume districts will work through priority lists of eligible educators during the pilot program, and will return to the highest-ranked educators with every available allocation based on the prioritization criteria. This is an area to engage districts around prioritization criteria and practices. If you do miss a notification or initially choose not to get an appointment and want to remain on the list, we recommend reaching out to your school district’s COVID coordinator or whoever is overseeing the priority list.

15. Where will the pilot program vaccine clinics be located?
Vaccinations centers for Greater Minnesota will remain in Fergus Falls, Marshall, Mountain Iron, North Mankato, Rochester, St. Cloud and Thief River Falls. The state has added a large-scale event at the Xcel Energy Center/Roy Wilkins Auditorium (follow instructions on your registration link) in St. Paul where they will distribute 15,000 doses to educators, school staff and child care workers. This site will be open Jan. 28–Feb. 1 and will be the location for the relevant employees in the seven-county metro area. The two other metro sites will serve only adults 65 years of age (during the week of Jan. 18-Feb. 1). Those who received their first dose in Andover (during the initial pilot week) will be notified that their second dose will be distributed at a new site in Blaine. 

16. Are walk-in appointments available at the vaccination clinic?
No, under no circumstances are walk-in appointments available. 

17. What vaccine will be used?
Based on vaccine availability, the vaccine being distributed during this pilot at the Greater Minnesota sites is Pfizer-BioNTech and at the metro sites it is the Moderna.

18. How are vaccines distributed among educators and school staff?
Some schools seem to be receiving significantly less vaccine proportional to their school population.

MDE has worked with statisticians at Minnesota Management and Budget to allocate vaccine based on the number of eligible educators, school staff, and childcare providers in the region. This does not correspond directly with student populations. For instance, a region with a larger number of childcare facilities may result in fewer vaccines per district. The goal is to ensure the most efficient and equitable distribution possible, and hopefully these concerns will be alleviated as more vaccine becomes available.

19. If educators signed up for vaccination and got waitlisted last week or the previous week, do they need to sign up again to be eligible for a vaccine this week?
No. People who were waitlisted for appointments at the Xcel Center/Roy Wilkins or any of the 35 community vaccination sites were transferred to the statewide list, and they are being contacted for appointments at the community sites based on the number of vaccine’s available. More information about the state’s pilot vaccination program for school and child care staff is available here.

20. We have heard reports that educators who live outside of Minnesota were told they aren’t eligible for the educator vaccine in Minnesota. Is this correct?
No. There was a mistake through the vendor applying the requirements of the 65+ vaccination program, and it is being rectified. If you were denied an appointment due to living out of state but work in a Minnesota school district or charter school, contact your Education Minnesota field staff or email COVID-19.Questions.MDE@state.mn.us.

21. If local leaders want to know how many educators in their district have been vaccinated, how should they do this?
MDE is in the process of compiling this data for every district, but as of Feb. 1, approximately 25,000 educators and school staff in Minnesota had received at least one vaccination shot through the pilot program. If locals wish to gather their own information more quickly, a simple voluntary survey of members via a platform such as Survey Monkey or Google Forms could work, but we would strongly recommend making the survey anonymous, since some people may be reluctant to reveal this information about themselves with their names.

22. May school districts send a survey to staff asking whether they have been vaccinated?
Although districts are still unable to mandate vaccination because of the fact that vaccines remain in the emergency use authorization phase, it is likely that they will be allowed to ask staff whether or not they have been vaccinated or plan to get vaccinated. Since the district would be generating government data, they would likely have to give staff what is known as a “Tennessen warning” that includes the consequences of not providing the information. Districts should avoid asking questions that would require an employee to reveal information about a disability, such as whether an employee’s reason for not getting the vaccine is due to their own health condition, unless the survey is anonymous.

23. Are student teachers or teacher candidates currently eligible for vaccines through the educator pilot project?
No. The current pilot program seeks to vaccinate school employees first. Education Minnesota believes that student teachers working in-person should be prioritized along with school employees due to the fact that they have similar exposure to the virus, and we will continue to advocate for their inclusion in the pilot program.

24. We are hearing reports of school staff who have no direct contact with students getting vaccinated ahead of educators working in person. Is this permissible?
Districts were initially supposed to prioritize staff working in person and those with at-risk conditions, but in order to get as many educators and school employees vaccinated as possible, the subsequent registration was open to all school employees and selection has been randomized in order to ensure that all open appointments are filled. Education Minnesota continues to advocate that priority be given to staff working in person, those with underlying health conditions putting them at greater risk or other risk factors such as staff over the age of 65, and staff with household members at increased risk of severe illness due to COVID.

25. Are districts required to pay staff mileage or provide release time for staff to get vaccinated or participate in the in-school COVID testing?
All staff should be allowed to use their paid sick leave, PTO or COVID/FFCRA leave (if extended) for both vaccination and COVID testing if it occurs during work hours. We have asked MDE to discourage districts from requiring staff to schedule vaccine or testing appointments outside of school hours. Some districts are paying employees’ mileage to travel to testing or vaccination sites, which we strongly support. If you are denied the ability to use your sick leave for either vaccination or COVID testing, please contact your union leader or Education Minnesota field staff.

26. I have a medical condition that puts me at greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Am I prioritized?
The state included people who are older and that have comorbid conditions as a risk factor for prioritization among educators in phase 1b. The state also included people with certain medical conditions and people with disabilities as additional considerations for prioritization. This guidance also clarifies that education and child care workers may be eligible for the vaccine under multiple priority groups – based on age, pre-existing condition, prioritized sectors, etc. You can and should follow all of these available vaccination opportunities as eligible (more information at mn.gov/vaccine). Lastly, you may also have a right to an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act for your work while you await vaccination. Contact your field staff for further assistance regarding medical conditions or other factors that may put you at further risk. 

27. If I have been allowed to work remotely during the pandemic as an accommodation for an underlying health condition, would refusing to get the vaccine jeopardize my ability to continue in my remote work assignment?
Every member’s situation is different, so we recommend that you discuss this issue with your field staff if you have concerns. However, as a general matter, if a person does not have a medical provider recommendation to avoid or delay vaccination and chooses not to get vaccinated, it may be harder to justify any legal right of that educator to continue being entitled to work remotely as an accommodation if the rest of the school is in a hybrid or in-person model.

28. Can schools require educators to be vaccinated?
Currently we do not believe districts will be able to mandate the vaccine as long as it is still in the “emergency use” phase of FDA authorization. One of the conditions of this authorization is that vaccine recipients “have the option to accept or refuse the EUA product and of any consequences of refusing administration of the product.” (www.fda.gov/regulatory-information/search-fda-guidance-documents/emergency-use-authorization-medical-products-and-related-authorities)

At some point the vaccine(s) will receive regular/non-emergency FDA approval, and it is likely that employers in certain industries, like health care and education, may be able to mandate it. Still, existing antidiscrimination laws will likely require them to provide exemptions and/or accommodations employees with health conditions that make getting the vaccine more dangerous than going without it, as well as employees with sincerely held religious objections. The EEOC has issued specific guidance on how employers should handle these exemptions.

Once a vaccine becomes available and passes the non-emergency phase of FDA approval so that employers may mandate it, school districts must bargain with locals before imposing this requirement, since it alters the terms and conditions of our members’ employment. The only way this would not be the case is if the Legislature adopts a law permitting districts to implement a vaccination requirement unilaterally.

29. Are there exemptions to vaccine requirements for employees?
Minnesota has a state law that permits the parents or guardians of students to conscientiously object to vaccination. No such express exemption exists for employees, so this will depend on future legislation. However, as stated above, other laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII may give certain employees a right to refuse vaccination without suffering any adverse employment action.

30. Will schools be required to negotiate vaccine requirements with local unions? What if they refuse to negotiate?
School districts must bargain with the exclusive representative(s) of any represented employees before imposing a vaccination requirement on its staff, since such a mandate clearly alters the terms and conditions of employment. If a district refuses to negotiate and instead adopts a vaccination policy that has an unreasonable timeline or fails to provide appropriate privacy protections or exemptions, we will consider all legal options to challenge its implementation.

Contact your Education Minnesota field staff if your employer imposes a vaccine mandate and refuses to negotiate with your local union.

31. Will Education Minnesota represent members who are disciplined for refusing to get vaccinated?
We can’t make a definitive guarantee that we would or would not represent a member who refuses to get a vaccine at this time since there is still a great deal about vaccine implementation for school employees that we don’t know. In discipline cases outside of teacher terminations, local unions would have a say in whether a case goes to hearing. In all cases, our ability to be successful would depend on the specific reason(s) the educator refused vaccination and whether the policy was negotiated with the exclusive representative. Education Minnesota will advocate for school vaccination policies that are fair and reasonable, and that preserve any legal rights employees may have to opt out under state or federal law. 

32. What are some trusted sources of information on COVID vaccines?
Minnesota Department of Health: www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/vaccine.html

U.S. Food & Drug Administration: www.fda.gov/emergency-preparedness-and-response/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19/covid-19-vaccines

Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, U.S. Centers for Disease Control: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/acip/index.html

World Health Organization: www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/covid-19-vaccines