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Faculty at Florida’s public universities, colleges demands chance to get COVID vaccine

Jimena Tavel
·4 min read

Faculty and staff members at universities and colleges across Florida on Thursday demanded access to the COVID-19 vaccine, a few hours after Gov. Ron DeSantis said all employees at K-12 schools could get the vaccine through pharmacies and federal-run sites such as the newly opened vaccine center at Miami Dade College North.

“This is NOT acceptable,” Karen Morian, the president of the United Faculty of Florida, which represents about 22,000 educators in the state, said in a statement. “Now that the governor has admitted the scientific value of vaccinations and publicly voiced support for vaccines, we call on him to recognize that education in Florida continues beyond K-12 and to include ALL educators in Florida’s vaccination programs.”

The UFF represents Florida’s 12 public universities and 14 community colleges, as well as one private university — Saint Leo University.

On Monday, DeSantis announced the state would expand the criteria to qualify for the vaccine, allowing K-12 school employees, law enforcement officers and firefighters who are at least 50 years old to get it.

Additionally, he said anyone who is at least 50 years old and can provide a doctor’s note proving they need the vaccine can get it. At some sites in South Florida, a state medical form is required.

President Joe Biden mandated on Tuesday that all states move K-12, pre-K and child-care employees ahead in the line to get inoculated. The Biden administration wants these employees to receive at least one dose by the end of the month, as part of its effort to reopen schools.

During a press conference Thursday morning in Crystal River, DeSantis said despite believing the age-based approach to vaccination is still the “most effective to reduce mortality,” he would comply with the federal government’s mandate to allow pre-k-12th grade school personnel and child-care workers — regardless of age — to get the vaccine. DeSantis’ executive order had not covered pre-K and child-care employees.

But there’s a caveat: School employees 18 and up can only get the vaccine at federal-run sites like MDC North or pharmacies like those in CVS, Walgreens and Walmart stores, which participate in the federal-run vaccine programs.

State-run sites like Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Marlins Park in Miami and Markham Park in Sunrise and county-run sites like at Tropical Park and Zoo Miami will continue to follow DeSantis’ executive order, which restricts vaccinations to K-12 school personnel 50 and up.

“Our view is if you’re 25, you’re just at less risk than somebody that’s 80. That’s just the bottom line,” the governor said. “At the same time, the federal government is the one sending us the vaccine. If they want it to be for all ages, then they have the ability to go and do that.”

DeSantis never mentioned the higher education community. His spokeswoman, Meredith Beatrice, didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.

Pushing for reopening college campuses without vaccines

In its statement, the UFF criticized the DeSantis administration for pressuring the public colleges and universities across the state to reopen their campuses, without first providing the employees the opportunity to get vaccinated.

Many colleges are pushing to resume normal operations and require faculty and staff to return to in-person settings by spring and summer.

Florida International University, the largest public school in South Florida, is planning to increase the number of students, faculty and staff on campus, starting with its first summer sessions on May 10.

Martha Meyer, the president of the UFF chapter at FIU, described DeSantis’ actions as “extremely disappointing.”

She said faculty there want to return to face-to-face teaching, but they have “valid concerns about safety on campus.” She pointed to the reported cases of COVID variants in Miami-Dade County and noted that many FIU students are local and Hispanic, and tend to live in multi-generational homes.

“If the leadership of this state truly wants to ‘return to normal,’ they would prioritize the expansion of the vaccine eligibility to include all folks in all educational settings,” Meyer said.