NEW JERSEY (CBSNewYork)New Jersey teachers unions are calling on the state to prioritize educators for the COVID-19 vaccine.

One group says teachers should be ahead of smokers, who are now eligible, CBS2’s Meg Baker reported Friday.

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“They’re interacting with folks, they don’t have a choice. They need to be in school to educate our youth,” said Dan Mitzner of Teach NJ.

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Mitzner said it’s essential teachers get the protections they deserve and get vaccinated. But right now, educators are not included in the first wave of 1B vaccinations.

Union representatives said they understand why health care workers, seniors and first responders are ahead of them. But if smokers are included, why aren’t educators?

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Gov. Phil Murphy said smokers and others who are high-risk are a priority in order to protect hospitals from a surge of patients.

“This is a respiratory virus … Smoking, like other chronic and medical conditions, puts someone at a higher risk of a more severe case of COVID,” Murphy said.

Sue McBride, president of Bergen County Education Association, said teachers put their lives at risk every day, and that’s stressful.

“Being in a classroom with students, who may be coming from homes where they have a family member, perhaps… they’re asymptomatic,” said McBride.

COVID VACCINE

Dr. Perry Halkitis with Rutgers University disagrees with the state’s decision, saying it’s not just about physical health, it’s about social health.

“To continue to develop children in terms of their intelligence, in terms of their social skills,” said Dr. Halkitis.

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“It get it,” said the governor. “I understand the optics here and that attacking folks who took up the habit of smoking and who are now addicted may be politically expedient, but at this time we are stuck in position where we have to prioritize a limited federal produced, or at least distributed, vaccine doses.”

Teachers remain in Phase 1B on the state’s priority list, but the next wave of eligibility is still being determined.

The heath department says the state receives roughly 100,000 doses per week. As more vaccines become available, they will open up eligibility to other groups.

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CBS2’s Meg Baker contributed to this report.

CBSNewYork Team