On Wednesday, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis urging him to follow President Joe Biden’s directive to make vaccines available to all teachers, school staff and child care workers, regardless of age.
Fried also urged the governor to open vaccines to farmworkers, agricultural and food production workers, and other essential workers who face elevated risk of COVID-19 illness. The governor’s current executive order opens vaccines to teachers only over age 50.
Fried’s call follows Biden’s announcement on Tuesday that his administration would urge vaccines for all teachers, school staff, and child care workers by the end of March, given a major increase in vaccine availability by May. Fried has requested since December that the next phase of vaccinations in Florida include farm workers and other agricultural employees and has encouraged farmworkers to get vaccinated through a public awareness campaign.
The letter is below.
Yesterday, President Biden issued a directive to states urging the COVID-19 vaccine be available to all educators, school staff, and child care workers by the end of this month. Now that the U.S. is on track to have vaccine supply enough for every American adult by the end of May, it’s all the more crucial that we move swiftly to offer vaccines to these essential employees.
While your Executive Order opening vaccine distribution to teachers over age 50 is a first step, it is not enough, and is now superseded in scope by the President’s directive. Studies have shown that one in four teachers and school staff face greater risk of serious COVID-19 illness, in part due to tight quarters in many school environments. Prioritizing those who work closest with our youngest Floridians is necessary to ensure schools can remain safely open and continue educating, feeding, and inspiring our children.
Furthermore, it is past time for some of Florida’s most essential workers to now have vaccine access, including farmworkers and those in the agricultural and food production industries, as I have requested since December. These frontline workers are critical to producing the safe, secure domestic food supply on which we rely. Yet according to studies, farmworkers face one of the highest increased risks of death from COVID-19, with Hispanic farmworkers facing a 59 percent higher risk.
Getting our economy back on track is dependent on our health – and that hinges on the ability of parents to get to work, which means ensuring their children have a safe school environment. It also depends on some of our most vulnerable workers staying healthy, productive, and supporting Florida’s key industries, from agriculture to small businesses. Working with the Biden Administration to accomplish these goals is a necessity.
Governor, it is imperative that Florida move now to open COVID-19 vaccinations to all teachers, school staff, and childcare workers – regardless of age – as well as critical infrastructure and essential workers including farmworkers. Our economy and our public health depend on this.
Together, we can keep our schools open and rebuild our economy by putting safety, health, and science first.