White House Undermines CDC on School Reopenings

Psaki says CDC director's comments were made in 'personal capacity'

CDC director Rochelle Walensky / Twitter screenshot
February 4, 2021

The White House claimed Thursday that CDC director Rochelle Walensky spoke "in her personal capacity" when she said that vaccinating teachers was not required for reopening schools.

Walensky said at a Wednesday CDC meeting that vaccinating teachers "is not a prerequisite" for returning to in-person instruction, citing a growing volume of scientific data. In response to a question about Walensky's statements, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the doctor did not make her statement on behalf of the CDC.

"Dr. Walensky spoke to this in her personal capacity," Psaki said at the press conference. "Obviously she's the head of the CDC, but we're going to wait for final guidance to come out."

Walensky said at a meeting that "increasing data" suggest that teachers need not receive the coronavirus vaccination for K-12 schools to reopen safely.

"I want to be clear that there is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely," Walensky said. "I would also say that vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for the safe reopening of schools."

A January study from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that the spread of coronavirus in schools is "extremely rare."

As the White House pushes to reopen schools within the first 100 days of President Joe Biden's term, teachers' unions across the United States have thwarted efforts to go back to the classroom for in-person instruction, claiming without evidence that it is unsafe to do so until all school staff members receive the vaccine. Chicago teachers have twice refused to go back on the school district's scheduled reopening dates.