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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Some teachers don't want to return to the classroom until they've been vaccinated — setting up potential clashes with state and local governments pushing to reopen schools.

Why it matters: Extended virtual learning is taking a toll on kids, and the Biden administration is pushing to get them back in the classroom quickly. But that will only be feasible if teachers are on board.

Where it stands: Although the rise of new, more contagious variants has scrambled the calculus on school reopening, for now the expert consensus is that vaccinations aren't essential to safely reopening schools.

  • A pair of studies from the CDC this week reiterated the agency's stance that schools can operate safely with the proper precautions, along with other mitigation measures in the broader community.
  • Most states haven't put teachers at the front of the line for vaccines. Only 18 have included teachers in the early priority groups that can get vaccinated now, and in all but four of those states, teachers are competing for shots with other higher-risk populations, including the elderly.

Yes, but: Teachers in some large school districts don't want to return to the classroom without being vaccinated — which could mean several more months of virtual classes.

  • The Chicago teachers union has asked to delay reopening until teachers receive at least the first dose of the vaccine, but the city’s public health commissioner has said it could take months for teachers to be vaccinated, the Chicago Tribune reports.
  • “If you are required to work with students in person — which thousands of educators have been doing for months now — you should be vaccinated as soon as possible,” Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said in statement after teachers were bumped behind the elderly in the state’s priority line, per Boston.com.

What they’re saying: “The issue is that we should be aligning vaccination with school opening. That doesn't mean every single teacher has to be vaccinated before you open one school, it means there has to be that alignment,” Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, told ABC News.

  • Teachers should be eligible for vaccination by “late January,” she wrote in a USA Today op-ed over the weekend.

The other side: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has said school staff will be prioritized for vaccination, with the goal of having students return to classrooms by March 1.

  • But prioritizing teachers can be controversial. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has been criticized for the decision to vaccinate teachers ahead of the elderly, high-risk essential workers and other vulnerable communities.
  • In a rural county in Georgia and at a private school in Philadelphia, teacher vaccine clinics were shut down by their state health departments, which said that educators were not yet eligible.

The bottom line: “It’s challenging to make those decisions about how to prioritize different populations, all of whom are at significant risk," the Kaiser Family Foundation's Jennifer Tolbert said.

Go deeper: Schools face an uphill battle to reopen during the pandemic

Go deeper

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Science helps New Zealand avoid another coronavirus lockdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (L) visits a lab at Auckland University in December. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand has avoided locking down for a second time over COVID-19 community cases because of a swift, science-led response.

Why it matters: The Health Ministry said in an email to Axios Friday there's "no evidence of community transmission" despite three people testing positive after leaving managed hotel isolation. That means Kiwis can continue to visit bars, restaurants and events as much of the world remains on lockdown.

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Germany to impose travel restrictions to curb spread of coronavirus variants

Border police officers check passports and COVID-19 tests at Frankfurt Airport. Photo: Thomas Lohnes via Getty Images

Germany announced Friday that it was imposing new travel restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants.

Details: All non-German residents traveling from countries deemed "areas of variant concern," including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Portugal, Ireland, Brazil, Lesotho and Eswatini, will be banned from entering the country, even if they test negative for the coronavirus.

Updated 41 mins ago - Health

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

A man prepares a funeral arrangement in in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 12. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.