When social media users learned a SoulCycle instructor in NYC had received a precious dose of COVID-19 vaccine, the backlash was swift and fierce. But the episode speaks to how the state’s eligibility guidelines create gray areas and confusion for vaccine providers trying to implement them.

“The state could be much more specific,” said Rupak Shivakoti, an epidemiologist at Columbia University but added that it is a “fine line” of how to balance ethics concerns, someone’s risk of COVID-19, and the economy.

Teachers in New York qualify if they work with Pre-K to 12th grade students; work in a facility with those students; are staff at a childcare center; or are in-person college instructors, according to city and state guidelines. But the definition can be murky for people like Chris Griggs.

Griggs is a New York City theater instructor who recently got a COVID-19 vaccine, qualifying as an educator under state guidelines.

LinkedIn shows he teaches theater at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy, shared the news in a Facebook post on January 29th. His second shot was scheduled in the Bronx later this month. “A step towards getting this year in the right direction,” he wrote.

Griggs said via email that he worked at a charter school and noted he worked in person at a college in the city. He declined to answer further questions but AMDA lists Griggs as an instructor, and the school recently returned to in-person classes in mid-January. He is also an improv instructor at the Peoples Improv Theatre, commonly called The Pit.

AMDA is an accredited college through the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, but only its Los Angeles location is listed and its New York campus does not offer a bachelor’s degree.

While frontline workers and elderly adults struggle to get the shot, this improv teacher’s tale illustrates the complexities surrounding who should be eligible amid limited supplies and stark racial disparities.

On Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio cast doubt on whether the SoulCycle instructor’s vaccination made sense, saying it should have been caught in the application process unless there was some mitigating factor. The instructor apologized on Monday in an Instagram post.

But again, it’s unclear how many school teachers in NYC have gotten a first dose, as the New York Post reported late last week, and the city still hasn’t provided a detailed accounting of which education and business sectors have taken the vaccine. This data can guide decision-making around how to prioritize essential workers as the region moves toward reopening. The teachers’ union, United Federation of Teachers, confirmed to Gothamist that 5,000 members have gotten the first dose through their matching program to connect teachers to providers for the shot. Another 5,000 are signed up and another 10,000 have expressed interest.

“If the decision there is more of an economic decision, maybe it doesn't matter whether the class is theater versus something else,” Shivakoti said. “The directions have to be clear.” He added that if it isn’t clear, then the vaccine shouldn’t be restricted to those in the gray area to seek the vaccine.

Tightening the restrictions at this point—like when the governor threatened to issue fines to providers for doling out the vaccine to those who don’t qualify or seizing their doses if they don’t use them quickly enough—could worsen the situation by brewing fears among providers required to follow strict rules.

“Being too strict can definitely backfire,” Shivakoti said. “That would delay things. That would get less people vaccinated.”