The CDC's Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing on Wednesday that "vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for the safe reopening of schools."
"The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has given this guidance for how we should think about prioritizing, among all essential workers and among all of the population at large. Those have been taken under guidance from the states and then the states are creating their own individual plans.
"Those plans have to sort of be in sync with how they are able to titrate their supply versus the number of people who are wanting it. We don't want to be too restrictive so that they have these queues of people and we don't want to be too open so that they also have these queues of people.
"We don't want to have too much supply on the shelf, so we've left that to the states to manage in terms of recognizing the prioritization of ASIP [American Society for Investigative Pathology] but also manage it at their own local level.
"That being said I want to be very clear about schools. Yes, ASIP has put teachers in the 1B category, the category of essential workers, but I also want to be clear that there is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen. And that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely.
"So while we are implementing the criteria of the advisory committee and the state and local guidances to get vaccination across these eligible communities, I would also say that safe reopening of schools is not, that vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for the safe reopening of schools."
Teachers unions have pressed for vaccines for their members in order to get them to go back to work in the classroom, along with other demands.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki addressed the question of teacher vaccinations also, saying that "the President himself has talked about the importance and priority of vaccinating teachers for school reopening" and that "ensuring teachers are vaccinated and prioritizing teachers is important to the President."
Psaki also said that she "saw the comments of Dr. Walensky, but I want to say that she would say, if she were standing here, and she's welcome any time, but she's in Atlanta, that they have not released their official guidance yet from the CDC on the vaccination of teachers and what would be needed to ensure the safe reopening of schools. So we'd certainly defer to that which we hope to see soon."
Psaki said that it was up to states to determine prioritization, though there are federal guidelines.
School reopening has been an incredibly contentious issue during the pandemic. Many major school districts that closed in mid-March 2020 have still not fully reopened, and many have not opened at all. The guidance from the federal government's expert on COVID, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has been incredibly mixed and often contradictory.
Much of the focus from the Biden administration has been for Congress to pass his proposed $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, which contains a $175 billion cash injection into schools across the country.