The National School Transportation Association (NSTA), which represents the interests of private school bus contractors, is urging that school bus drivers be among the first U.S. workers to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
Pfizer and BioNTech have developed a vaccine that claims 95 percent effectiveness in preventing the new novel coronavirus. Moderna also says its vaccine is also nearly 95 percent effective. On Monday, Oxford University and AstraZeneca said their own vaccine is 90 percent effective.
NSTA’s request made this month before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) follows the Aug. 18 listing of school bus drivers on the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) lists of essential and critical workers for education. NSTA, which says school bus contractors employ 38 percent of school bus drivers nationwide, estimates that a third of school bus drivers are ages 60 or older, placing the industry “at the intersection of a critical function and an older, more at-risk employee group.”
“NSTA believes school bus drivers deserve high priority in COVID-19 vaccine distribution because of their critical importance of their jobs to safely transport children to and from school and to continue to be able to deliver school nutrition supplies and Wi-Fi to students learning from home. CISA has already included them on their list of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers,” testified Curt Macysyn, NSTA’s executive director.
He noted that school bus drivers deserve high priority because they fill critical roles in not only transporting the nation’s schoolchildren. NSTA estimates that about 60 percent of students are currently engaged in some form of in-person learning at school, either full-time or under a hybrid learning model.
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NSTA also estimates that 5 to 10 percent of all school bus drivers are currently not working due to COVID-19, which further exacerbates the ongoing driver shortage affecting the industry. Some of these employees are infected by the virus or they have been exposed and must quarantine. Others, NSTA added, have had to take a leave of absence and/or are too fearful to return to work without a vaccine.
“For new drivers, it takes a minimum of 12 weeks to get a driver certified with a commercial driver license and receive classroom and behind-the-wheel entry-level driver training before they can be put behind the wheel of a bus carrying schoolchildren,” Macysyn said. “These factors are causing routes to have to be canceled and less service is able to be provided, which exposes children to much less safe ways to get to and from school.”