Higher ed teachers criticize exclusion from plans to vaccinate Kansas, Missouri educators

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KANSAS CITY, Mo — While K-12 teachers are now eligible to sign up to get the COVID-19 vaccine in both Kansas and Missouri, educators in higher education have been left out, and they want to know why.

On Thursday, Gov. Mike Parson announced that Missouri is moving into Phase 1B-Tier 3 beginning March 15, allowing about 550,000 more Missourians to be eligible for the vaccine.

“This includes our K-12 teachers, child care providers,” Parson said Thursday as he announced who would be included.

It’s the same in Kansas, which is now in Phase 2 of its vaccination plan where only K-12 teachers and staff are eligible for the vaccine.

“It’s short-sighted of our lawmakers to realize or not to realize that higher ed educators are any safer. We’re absolutely not,” said Ron Barrett-Gonalez, a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Kansas.

Lab work and building things are the crux of an engineering education, but without the vaccine, that type of work has stopped.

“Our students do well. They win awards still, even though they’re doing things by Zoom. But it still does not lead the same level of hands-on projects that we used to have in the past,” Barrett-Gonzalez said.

KU professor Greg Cushman finds the exclusion very disappointing. He said he got COVID-19 while teaching in the classroom the first week of fall semester. Cushman was severely ill, with a very high fever, difficulty breathing and coughing terribly.

“Suffering from post-COVID was almost as bad as getting the initial illness itself,” Cushman said. “I was so weak that I could barely get out of bed or get out of a chair. My children had to help me go up the stairs, things like that.”

Cushman spread the virus to every member of his household.

“I wish the state of Kansas and Missouri paid greater attention to the kind of sacrifices that people like me have been making during this pandemic and would do more to help protect us,” Cushman said.

FOX4 reached out to the governors of both states to ask why higher education has been left out. We have not heard back from Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly. Parson’s spokesperson sent the following statement:

“Higher education is still part of Phase 2. It is important to note that regardless of what tier one may be in based on their occupation, if they are 65 or older or have one of the listed comorbidities within Phase 1B-Tier 2, they are eligible for vaccination now. Those at increased risk for severe illness are prioritized.

“Our goal is to ultimately allow every Missourian the opportunity to be vaccinated if they choose. Because of the very limited supply at this time, prioritization is needed. All phases and tiers were designed with specific goals in mind as you can also see on the page I linked to above: 1) save lives, reduce hospitalizations and keep communities safe; 2) preserve critical infrastructure/essential functions of society running; 3) protect those who have been disproportionately affected and accelerating economic recovery – in that order.

“This prioritization is NOT the state defining industries that may be overall more important than another. It is about identifying highest risk first and then moving on to the other goals we have set. When K-12 is fully open, not only are kids back in school, but parents are also able to more easily get to work. Strain on families is relieved, which helps us recover from financial or economic setbacks. Higher education does not share the same dynamics that come with the involvement of young children, and virtual learning opportunities become more easily obtainable at the higher education level.”

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