Teachers do not need to get vaccinated against COVID-19 before schools can safely reopen, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.
“There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters during a White House news briefing on COVID-19.
“Vaccinations of teachers is not a prerequisite for safely reopening schools,” she added.
During a press briefing later Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki walked back Walensky’s comments, saying that they were not “official guidance” from the CDC.
If Walensky were here, she would say “that they have not released their official guidance from the CDC yet on the vaccination of teachers and what would be needed to ensure the safe reopening of schools,” Psaki said.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to put “frontline essential workers,” which include teachers, next in line to receive a COVID-19 vaccine after first prioritizing health-care workers and long-term care facility residents. However, it may take a while for most teachers to get their shots as U.S. officials work to pick up the pace of vaccinations.
Still, school systems across the U.S. have been under pressure to reopen after shifting to remote learning last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 26.4 million Americans and killed at least 447,077 in a little over a year.
Some parents have been forced to stay at home to watch their children instead of going to work. Meanwhile, teachers and other faculty have expressed concerns about returning to school, potentially putting their health at risk.
A study from the CDC published late last month found little evidence of the virus spreading at schools in the U.S. and abroad when precautions were taken, such as wearing masks, social distancing and ventilating rooms.
The Biden administration has released a COVID-19 rescue plan that includes providing schools and universities with $170 billion to reopen. The money would be used in part to scale up testing. The administration has said testing is a “critical” strategy for controlling the spread of the virus, but added tests are still not widely available, and the U.S. is still not using the ones it has effectively.
Walensky has previously said that schools should be the first to open and the last to close in the pandemic.
Jeff Zients, President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 czar, said Wednesday that Biden has been “very clear” that he wants schools to “reopen and to stay open.”
“That means every school has the equipment and the resources to open safely,” he said during the news briefing, urging Congress to “do its part” by passing Biden’s Covid rescue plan. “Not just private schools or schools in wealthy areas but all schools.”
This story first appeared on CNBC.com.