Nearly 7,000 teachers from around the country joined Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Biden, in a virtual fireside chat Thursday evening. Hosted by NEA and AFT, the program gave public school educators a chance to ask the nation’s foremost infectious disease expert about COVID vaccines and other mitigation strategies as the United States enters the most critical stage of the pandemic.
Assuring his listeners that the Biden administration takes “very seriously” the safety of teachers and students, Fauci—whose daughter teaches third grade science in New Orleans—acknowledged that the goal of reopening schools to in-person learning will require considerable resources, among them better ventilation, safer spacing, mass vaccinations, and doubling down on prevention modalities, including the use of masks.
“The idea of saying, ‘Go do it on your own’ doesn’t work,” he said.
Calling teachers “absolutely critical” to our society and our nation’s recovery, he stressed that getting education professionals vaccinated as quickly as possible gets us to the goal we all want.
“Teachers want as much as anybody to get students back to school,” he said. “We have people who have emerged as heroes during this outbreak. Teachers and the teams who take care of our children’s well-being and education—you are heroes as much as anyone else.”
When asked about the disproportionate impact of COVID on Black and brown communities and how the current administration plans to address the problem, Fauci pointed to President Biden’s strategic plan, announced last week. The 100-page plan, he said, acknowledges the need to increase access to COVID testing, healthcare, and vaccines for Black and brown people.
“The outbreak sheds a very bright light on the tremendous disparities in the incidence of infection, hospitalization, and death, the social determinants of health, and the multidecade effort it will take to equalize that,” Fauci said. He expressed optimism that under Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, who was tapped to head the president’s health equity task force, there will be an increased focus on enhancing healthcare delivery to underserved areas through community vaccine centers, mobile units, and more.
Fauci also answered questions about vaccine safety, the potential for COVID transmissibility from people who have been vaccinated, and the effectiveness of current vaccines against new COVID variants.