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Psaki says vaccinating teachers not required for return to 5-day in-person learning

Biden pushes to reopen schools amid vaccine debate
Biden pushes to reopen schools amid teacher vaccination debate 02:06

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris do not believe vaccinating teachers is a prerequisite for students to return to the classroom five days a week. 

The Biden White House has been at times unclear on school reopening guidance, but the Centers for Disease Control have not listed teacher vaccination as a requirement to enable students to go back to school in person. During a CNN town hall Tuesday night, Mr. Biden said teachers and support staff should be moved up in priority for vaccinations, but declined to say whether teachers should be required to be vaccinated before returning to the classroom. 

"I think we should be vaccinating teachers. We should move them up in the hierarchy," Mr. Biden said, though he recognized it's the states that determine the order of priority in administering shots.

A reporter in the briefing room Wednesday asked Psaki: "The vice president this morning, I believe, said it's a priority to get vaccinations for teachers. Can you get to five days a week without vaccinations? Does the president believe teachers need to be vaccinated before they go back to school?"

"No, neither the president nor the vice president believe that that it is a requirement," Psaki said. "The CDC guidelines included a range of mitigation steps, including vaccinations, as recommendations. But the mitigation steps also included steps like social distancing, the need for smaller class sizes, the need for sanitation. So these are — this was one of several steps recommended in the CDC guidelines."

"The president and the vice president both believe that teachers should be prioritized and, as you well know, that's up to states to determine," she continued. "There are federal recommendations. About half of the country, about half of the states in the country, have prioritized teachers and they both feel that's important — including child health care workers — and they both feel that that's something that is impacting working women and moms who are trying to go back to work and trying to make sure that their kids have the attention and childcare they need." 

Republicans have been questioning the Biden administration's differing responses to school reopening issues.  

On Thursday, CBS News obtained a letter from Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and fellow Republican leaders on the Energy and Commerce committee, which oversees the CDC, with 17 questions addressed to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky about the research and outside opinions used in finalizing the school reopening guidelines.  

"The shifting positions and contradictory statements from the Biden administration concern us because parents need certainty," the letter states, "We are also concerned that politics may be overtaking science in the Biden administration, which is leading to unnecessary, prolonged school closures." 

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