Unvaccinated and partially vaccinated staff in Philadelphia public schools were far more likely to catch Covid-19 than their fully immunized colleagues after the district began reopening this spring, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday, as health officials look to suppress Covid-19 infections and prevent more school closures next year through vaccines.

Second grade teacher Stacey DiMattio wears a decorative face shield while reading to her class at … [+] Stark Elementary School in Stamford, Conn., on October 21, 2020.

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Key Facts

The CDC’s study looked at tens of thousands of Covid-19 tests from Philadelphia’s mandatory weekly screening system for school staff, conducted over a five-week period starting after the city began resuming in-person elementary school classes in late March.

Just 0.09% of screening tests came back positive for Covid-19 if staff received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, far lower than the 1.76% of positive tests among unvaccinated staff and 1.21% of positive tests among staff who reported just one vaccine dose.

Big Number

46.9%. That’s the percentage of eligible employees at the School District of Philadelphia who received Pfizer’s two-dose coronavirus vaccine between February and April, via a city-run program for public school staff. Some 62% of the district’s weekly screening tests were tied to vaccinated people, meaning some staff may have sought out other vaccines through other channels, especially seniors or people with underlying health conditions.


The CDC’s study had some limitations, the authors wrote. The data doesn’t include staffers who tested positive in settings outside the school district’s screening program, and vaccinated staff might take different precautions than those who choose not to get immunized.

Key Background

As vaccinations plateau nationwide and Covid-19 infections surge due to the virus’ more contagious new Delta variant, U.S. health officials are urging teachers to protect themselves and prevent a return to on-and-off school closures by getting immunized. Most teachers have agreed: Nearly 80% of total school staff were vaccinated by the end of March, the CDC estimated, and the National Education Association — the country’s largest teachers union — reported an 86% vaccination rate among its members in late May.

Crucial Quote

“Efforts to promote COVID-19 vaccination among school staff members before the upcoming 2021–22 school year will be foundational to ensure a safe learning environment,” the CDC wrote in its study Friday.


The CDC says vaccinated teachers and students generally don’t need to wear masks indoors, though it said universal mask mandates could make sense for schools in areas with high infection rates. The American Academy of Pediatrics is more cautious: Earlier this week, the organization encouraged all students and school staff to wear masks, even if they’re vaccinated, partly because the vaccines aren’t authorized for Americans under 12 yet.

Further Reading

Everyone Should Wear A Mask In Schools, Vaccinated Or Not, U.S. Pediatricians Say (NPR)

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