Graphic by Sarah Kauffman
By Mariam Itani, News Editor
A Moraine Valley professor comes into class after having been in quarantine for months and follows all safety procedures as closely as possible. Meanwhile, some of the students coming into the classroom have not been adhering to the strict guidelines necessary to combat the COVID-19 virus, putting at risk the professor, who is not vaccinated.
Down the street, a high school, under Illinois state ruling, is vaccinating its teachers, protecting them from the spread and resurgence of the virus.
Illinois has been distributing the COVID-19 vaccine since mid-December to people qualifying under phase 1A, which includes health care personnel and other front-line workers. Beginning Jan. 25, people who fall under the 1B category have been getting vaccinated. However, although K-12 teachers are included in the 1B category, Illinois is not prioritizing higher education faculty and staff the same way. In fact, the state has even pushed this group’s vaccination into the “2” category, two phases after 1B.
According to Inside Higher Ed, only 19 states have included higher education workers in phase 1B, while 35 states have included K-12 workers.
“Considering there are more COVID-19 cases amongst college-age students and MVCC does not require regular testing of on-campus students like other colleges, I do feel that faculty who are teaching face-to-face courses should be included in the 1B phase of vaccinations with K-12 teachers,” said Ann Marie Renfree, a Moraine microbiology professor.
Some research studies have shown that the 20-49 age demographic, which includes many college students, displays the highest resurgence of COVID-19, raising the question of the effectiveness of the state’s decision: Is it reasonable to exclude higher education faculty from the 1B category for vaccines?
“This patchwork approach to the prioritization of educators goes against the guidance of The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which advises the CDC, and recommends including educators, including higher ed, in Phase 1B,” Renfree said.
Other Moraine professors agree the state should extend the 1B category to higher education faculty.
“Should higher education be getting much more support from state and federal sources? Absolutely yes,” said biology professor Jason Howland.
Psychology professor Mitch Baker believes that “the exponential interactions of those working in a college community requiring a return to in-person instruction–especially any primarily commuter college or university–should be included in the educator category.”
Last fall, to address a decline in enrollment, Moraine set out to double the number of hybrid courses for spring, requiring full-time faculty in all subject areas to teach at least one hybrid course. (Some faculty with health conditions were exempted from this rule.)
“There has been a push to add more face-to-face instruction this spring semester because many of our students do not have the necessary infrastructure at home (computer, fast and reliable internet, and quiet spaces) to effectively work,” Renfree said.
Renfree pointed out that some disciplines, such as the culinary arts, organic chemistry and welding, cannot be taught remotely, and that the vaccine situation especially affects part-time faculty.
“Many MVCC face-to-face courses are taught by adjunct professors, many of whom are struggling financially and do not have the option of not working,” she said. “This adjunct group is also less likely to have good health insurance coverage should they contract a severe infection.”
Another research study by the CDC explored the trends of infection amongst people between the ages of 0-24 and also found that the age demographic typical of college students was most likely to contract and spread the disease. The study showed the “majority (57.4%) of COVID cases occurred among young adults 18-24 years.”
The question is raised whether it’s possible to expand eligibility for the vaccine.
According to The State Journal-Register, Gov. J.B Pritzker is planning to expand the eligibility of the vaccine for the 1B category. Including more people into the category means that a supply of the vaccine in Illinois is increasing and, as Pritzker says, “By expanding the pool of those eligible to get a vaccine as our supplies are projected to increase, Illinois is advancing the goals of attaining equity, keeping those at risk healthy, and reducing new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.” However, including higher education faculty in this expansion was not addressed.
Moraine Valley professors are not the only ones that hold these concerns as the people of Illinois have reacted to this decision similarly. There is an ongoing petition that addresses this situation in hopes of receiving support from Pritzker and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the Illinois Department of Public Health director, on prioritizing higher education faculty in the 1B category.