Expand vaccine access to Florida university employees, faculty union says

The United Faculty of Florida tells Gov. Ron DeSantis that eligibility should go beyond K-12 school workers.
The United Faculty of Florida union is calling on vaccine access to be expanded to faculty and staff at Florida's colleges and universities.
The United Faculty of Florida union is calling on vaccine access to be expanded to faculty and staff at Florida's colleges and universities. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published March 4, 2021|Updated March 4, 2021

An order this week by Gov. Ron DeSantis to make K-12 school employees 50 and older eligible for coronavirus vaccines is getting pushback from some university employees in Florida.

The state should expand access to university faculty and a range of other staff, the United Faculty of Florida said in a statement. The union represents about 22,000 employees in Florida’s university and state college systems. It listed counselors, food and maintenance workers, graduate assistants, residence hall assistants and librarians among the staffers besides faculty who should be eligible.

While some retail pharmacy chains, including CVS and Walmart, are following federal recommendations and offering vaccines to K-12 teachers of all ages, higher education employees — many who have resumed their duties in-person — have been left out of the conversation, the statement said.

“Vaccine access is crucial to bring normalcy back in our lives and the economy,” union vice president Jaffar Shahul-Hameed said in the statement. “Vaccines are essential for all teachers — both K-12 and higher education — as we interact with millions of Floridians every single day, especially the younger generation. It is disappointing, to say the least, that higher education faculty are not considered as classroom teachers for vaccine access.”

At the University of Florida, spring 2021 saw almost as many in-person course offerings as the spring before the pandemic. The school has reported more than 1,400 cases of coronavirus among employees since March 2020.

At the University of South Florida, 58 percent of courses had some in-person component this year, while over 200 employees have contracted the virus since August.

Given that vaccines are expected to become available to anyone who wants one by May, getting doses to university faculty should be a higher priority, said Steve Kirn, co-chair of a task force that protested the University of Florida’s decision to increase in-person offerings this spring.

Art Shapiro, the union’s president at USF, said in an interview Thursday that, while he understood the governor was making decisions based on limited supplies, he hopes he will expand eligibility to university faculty soon.

“I think the more people who get vaccinated, the fewer will die,” Shapiro said. “I’m sure the people teaching face-to-face want to get the vaccine.”