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Phased and confused: OSU professors react to being in Phase III of COVID vaccine

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Professors at Oklahoma State are in Phase III of Oklahoma's vaccine plan.

According to the State of Oklahoma’s vaccine rollout plan, college professors and faculty are listed as a lower priority than pre-k through twelfth grade teachers, despite college faculty and staff being collectively older and at a higher risk of exposure due to mandatory in-person learning at colleges like Oklahoma State. 

Pre-k through twelfth grade teachers and support staff will be eligible to receive the vaccine in phase two of the State of Oklahoma’s vaccine rollout plan. Unless university staff and faculty are over the age of 65 or an adult with a compromised immune system, they will not be eligible until phase three.

Jennifer Rudd, a veterinarian on faculty at the College of Veterinary Medicine, says there are factors making university classrooms safer than pre-k through twelfth grade classrooms.

Our students have strict guidelines for masking, distancing, and can better learn virtually than younger kids can,” Rudd said. "We also have university support to enforce these guidelines and we meet with students for smaller time frames than my son’s kindergarten class would meet.”

Additionally, Dr. Rudd said younger people are more likely to have asymptomatic infections so more kids are likely to show up at school with COVID-19. Knowing this, Rudd said she supports prioritizing pre-k through twelfth grade teachers and support staff.

There are 24,649 students at OSU and some professors teach in person while wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Dr. Clint Jones, a regent’s professor and Sitlington professor of infectious diseases, said he taught an in-person class last semester and is impressed by how aware students are about upholding safety guidelines. 

Even though Jones said in his experience students are responsible and should not be expected to only go to class and stay in their rooms. He said the possibility of transmitting the virus is still an issue because of what happens outside of the classroom.

“Like it or not, a lot of college kids are going to go to bars, and let’s face it, after two or three beers you’re probably not thinking about wearing a mask,” Jones said. 

 Jones said he does not understand why university faculty and staff could not be in the same phase as pre-k through twelfth grade teachers and support staff because the risk involved with teaching in person is still present.

While there is still risk involved with holding in-person class, Barry Fuxa, public relations and communications specialist for Stillwater Public Schools, said considering the current supply chain, he understands prioritizing groups. 

Like Rudd, Fuxa said it is easier for university staff and faculty to practice social distancing because it's easier to distance themselves from students and hold classes online than it is for pre-k through twelfth grade teachers. 

 Some educators are ready to get the vaccine. Tera Mitchell, a kindergarten teacher at Westwood Elementary school, said at first, she was uncertain about getting the vaccine because of how fast it was developed. However, after her mom died due to COVID-19 she said will most certainly be getting the vaccine. 

I feel it is remarkable that scientists and medical professionals have been able to develop a vaccine in less than two years for distribution to the public,” Mitchell said. “While I wish that it is something that could be administered rapidly, I have to trust the process and continue doing my part to keep vulnerable populations safe.”

There many factors why vaccinations get administered to certain populations before others. Dr. Marianna Patrauchan, a professor in the department of microbiology and molecular genetics, said the distribution of the vaccine is more complex.

Patrauchan said vaccine distribution is largely based on who is the most vulnerable or at risk. However, when distinguishing between campus faculty and staff and pre-k through twelfth grade teachers and staff, it becomes tougher. Not only because there are still things unknown about the virus, and it is difficult to find easily accessible information about how many vaccines have been distributed in a specific area.

news.ed@ocolly.com