Utah’s child care workers can sign up for COVID-19 vaccine in March through federal program

President Biden says he wants every child care provider to receive at least one dose by the end of the month.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bianca Allen asks children to walk like mummies to help with social distancing as they enter the Jewish Community Center on Thursday, July 2, 2020. Child care workers in Utah are able to sign up for COVID-19 vaccine appointments in March 2021 as part of a federal pharmacy program.

Utah’s child care workers can sign up for COVID-19 vaccine appointments this month, even though they are not specifically included in the state’s eligibility list yet.

Last week, President Joe Biden said he wanted every educator, school staff member and child care worker to receive at least one dose by the end of March. To make that possible, he announced that these groups would be prioritized for appointments through a federal program with certain pharmacies.

In Utah, K-12 school teachers and staff are already eligible to be vaccinated and started getting their shots in January. While vaccine eligibility has expanded to Utahns age 50 and older — as well as people 16 and older with certain medical conditions — child care workers were not included in early rollouts in the Beehive State.

But they can sign up now for vaccine appointments with the federal retail pharmacy partners, even though they are not in Utah’s eligibility groups, confirmed Tom Hudachko, director of communications for the Utah Department of Health.

To make an appointment, child care workers can go to the websites of the participating pharmacies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the locations in Utah include:

  • Albertsons Companies, Inc. (including Osco, Jewel-Osco, Albertsons, Albertsons Market, Safeway, Tom Thumb, Star Market, Shaw’s, Haggen, Acme, Randalls, Carrs, Market Street, United, Vons, Pavilions, Amigos, Lucky’s, Pak n Save, Sav-On)

  • CVS Pharmacy, Inc. (including Long’s)

  • LeaderNET and Medicine Shoppe, Cardinal Health’s PSAOs

  • The Kroger Co. (including Kroger, Harris Teeter, Fred Meyer, Fry’s, Ralphs, King Soopers, Smiths, City Market, Dillons, Mariano’s, Pick-n-Save, Copps, Metro Market)

  • Walmart, Inc. (including Sam’s Club)

  • Walgreens (including Duane Read)

The people who are eligible to sign up through the program include:

  • Teachers and staff in pre-K-12 schools, child care centers and Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

  • Licensed child care providers, including center-based and family care providers.

  • Classroom aides, bus drivers, janitors, counselors, administration staff, cafeteria workers, substitute teachers.

When asked if Utah officials plan to add child care workers to the state’s eligibility list in light of Biden’s directions, Hudachko said in an email, “The Unified Command Group will discuss and coordinate with Gov. [Spencer] Cox’s office to determine what, if any, changes should be made to Utah’s current eligibility groups.”

Hudachko estimated there are roughly 12,000 child care workers in the state.

Marianne Peck, who runs Peck’s Playschool out of her home in Francis, said she’s relieved child care providers can now get the vaccine. At the beginning of February, she sent an email to state and Summit County officials, asking why this group wasn’t prioritized for shots in Utah.

Child care providers were considered essential workers early on in the pandemic, Peck said, when schools shut down and parents needed somewhere for their children to go. The state offered grants and support to help centers stay open.

Months later, as vaccines began to be distributed, Peck said it felt like child care workers were put on the “back burner” and viewed as “glorified babysitters,” rather than licensed, early educators, on the same level with K-12 teachers. She points to the CDC’s recommendation that day care workers be included with teachers and support staff in early rollouts.

Luckily, Peck said, she has not had to shut down over the last year because of COVID-19, but she worries about the effect that could have had on families if she did.

Peck, who’s 60, is scheduled to get her first vaccine dose later this month because the state has opened up appointments to a wider age group. But her younger employees who help her care for the roughly 16 children who come to her home wouldn’t have been eligible yet without this federal initiative, she said.

State child care officials now are sharing information about the vaccination program with care providers, said Simon Bolivar, administrator of the state’s child care licensing program, in an email Tuesday.

“We are also collecting a comprehensive list of sites child care providers can go to and will send them that additional information as soon as we have it,” he said.

As a parent who depends on day care for her 6-month-old and 3-year-old, Jamie Lyon said she’s also excited to see vaccines available to child care workers. The Salt Lake City mother had emailed Cox in January, encouraging him to include them in the early distribution.

One reason she did that, Lyon said, is because she knows how important this early education and socialization is for kids. She also realized child care providers were risking their health every day to take care of her children so that both she and her husband could continue working during the pandemic.

Over the last year, they have lived day to day, watching to see if their child care provider had to close because of COVID-19. Despite taking safety precautions, that could happen, she said, and the couple would have to “miraculously” figure out how to take off a couple of weeks of work.

Lyon said she realizes that isn’t sustainable for every family, especially as women face a disproportionate effect of the economic downturn during COVID-19, with many leaving the workforce because of child care responsibilities.

As child care workers risk their health and lives while struggling to stay open during the pandemic, “I just have a tremendous amount of empathy for them,” Lyon said.

“They’re doing the most important job in the world for me,” she added. “I want them to feel safe doing it.”

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.