States rapidly expanding vaccine access as supplies surge

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Hartford Public Schools Safety Officer Victor Rodriguez flexes his arm muscle after receiving a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Conn., Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The first shipments of the vaccine arrived at the hospital this morning. Cities and states are rapidly expanding access to vaccines as the nation races to head off a resurgence in coronavirus infections and reopen schools and businesses battered by the pandemic. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Buoyed by a surge in vaccine shipments, states and cities are rapidly expanding eligibility for COVID-19 shots to teachers, Americans 50 and over and others as the U.S. races to beat back the virus and reopen businesses and schools.

Indiana and Michigan will begin vaccinating those 50 and over, while Arizona and Connecticut have thrown open the line to those who are at least 55. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are reserving the first doses of the new one-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson for teachers. And in Detroit, factory workers can get vaccinated starting this week, regardless of age.

Giving the vaccine to teachers and other school staff “will help protect our communities," Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said. “It’s going to take burdens off our parents and families. It’s going to make our schools get back to the business of teaching our kids.”

Until now, the vaccination campaign against the outbreak that's killed over a half-million Americans has concentrated mostly on health workers and senior citizens.

Around the U.S., politicians and school administrators have been pushing hard in recent weeks to reopen classrooms to stop students from falling behind and enable more parents to go back to work. But teachers have resisted returning without getting vaccinated.

The Department of Health and Human Services has ordered all states to make teachers, school staff, bus drivers and child care workers eligible for shots. That's a major shift for the Biden administration, which controls access to COVID-19 vaccines but previously allowed states to set their own guidelines.

Jody Mackey, 46, a middle-school digital media and history teacher in Traverse City, Michigan — where students have attended mostly in-person since September — received her second dose nearly two weeks ago after teachers in her district were designated essential workers.

Before that, she kept her classroom windows open and used space heaters.