BOSTON (CBS) — Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration on Thursday slammed the push by the teachers union to secure more coronavirus vaccines for educators. State leaders met with the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which has been asking for  vaccination clinics for teachers at a local level.

“The Baker-Polito Administration is dismayed that despite reasonable efforts to prioritize educator vaccinations, the teachers’ unions continue to demand the Commonwealth take hundreds of thousands of vaccines away from the sickest, oldest and most vulnerable residents in Massachusetts and divert them to the unions’ members, 95% of which are under age 65,” senior Baker advisor Tim Buckley said in a statement. “Building an entirely new, exclusive, teacher-only, school by school distribution system would make Massachusetts’ vaccination system slower, less equitable and far more complicated.”

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The statement called on the unions to “do the math” and recognize that the state is only getting about 150,000 first vaccine doses a week, and the demand from 1 million eligible residents far exceeds supply right now.

“Diverting hundreds of thousands of vaccines to an exclusive, teacher-only distribution system would deny the most vulnerable and the most disproportionately impacted residents hundreds of thousands of vaccines,” Buckley said. “The Baker-Polito Administration does not support diverting hundreds of thousands of vaccines away from the populations most likely to suffer serious illness and most likely to lose their lives to COVID.”

The largest teachers unions in the state responded later Thursday with a joint statement, saying during the meeting they suggested diverting some of the doses designated for teachers away from mass vaccination sites and to local communities – not taking shots away from more vulnerable populations.

“The administration’s mischaracterization of educators as somehow seeking to take vaccines away from the sick and elderly is untrue and defamatory,” union leaders from the Massachusetts Teachers Union, AFT – Massachusetts and the Boston Teachers Union said in a statement. “Despite mischaracterizations by aides to the Baker administration, we have never advocated for educators to “skip the line” or be prioritized ahead of the sick and elderly.”

They described the administration’s statement as dishonest and irresponsible.

“It is sad, and frankly, reckless that on the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down our state, Governor Charlie Baker is pitting one vulnerable group against another,” they said. “The Baker administration’s weaponization of the fact that most educators are under the age of 65 distorts several realities, including the presence of underlying health conditions.”

At a news conference on Thursday, Baker said “even the CDC has said that teachers don’t need to be vaccinated to be educating kids.”

“Tens of thousands of teachers and hundreds of thousands of kids have proven here in Massachusetts, since August, that if you follow the rules and the mitigation strategies… you can teach kids safely in-person,” Baker said.

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He said Massachusetts has focused on “preservation of life and preservation of the healthcare system” in its vaccine rollout process.

“I am not going to be in a position where I take vaccine away from people who are extremely vulnerable, who have multiple medical conditions, and are over the age of 65, to give it to a targeted population,” Baker said. “We’re just not going to play that game.”

The fight between Baker and the union comes as Massachusetts elementary and middle schools were given April deadlines to return to full-time in-person learning in the classroom.

Teachers became eligible to sign up at all 170 vaccination sites in Massachusetts Thursday. Baker has also announced there will be four designated days set aside for educators to get their shots at mass vaccination sites on March 27th, April 3rd, 10th, and 11th.

MTA President Merrie Najimy has criticized the state’s plan to return to in-person learning as “an arrogant, top down, one size fits all view.” She also has called on the state to go further than just moving teachers up in the vaccination process and reserving some days at mass vaccination sites for educators.

“We caution that without a localized on-site vaccination program that creates maximum efficiency for school employees and minimum disruption to the school day, reopening plans already underway will be undermined,” she said in a statement.

Dozens of lawmakers on Thursday sent a letter to the Baker administration calling for the state to approve local efforts to vaccinate educators.

“We urge you to adopt and implement plans to ensure that all educators and school staff in Massachusetts can receive COVID-19 vaccines prior to reopening elementary and secondary schools to full, in-person learning,” senators and representatives wrote.

Boston Public Schools is holding a vaccination clinic for teachers and staff on Sunday.

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Visit Mass.Gov/CovidVaccine to find out when you’re eligible and to book an appointment or call the hotline at 211.

CBSBoston.com Staff