Growing calls to prioritize daycare staff, early childhood educators for COVID-19 vaccines
TORONTO -- There are growing calls for child care staff and educators to be prioritized higher in the queue for COVID-19 vaccines, as daycares remain open as an essential service.
Ontario, where schools are currently closed to in-person learning amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, is currently in Phase 2 of vaccine rollout, which includes teachers, early childhood educators (ECEs) and daycare workers, but immediate eligibility is not universal.
ECEs and daycare workers aged 55 and older are eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine, and those aged 60 and older are eligible for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
Those aged 18 and up living in one of Ontario’s “hot spot” postal codes are also eligible for vaccination.
Phase 2 is estimated to run until June, but ECEs and daycare workers who don’t fit the current eligible age criteria or don’t live in a designated hot spot must wait until at least mid-May to June to get the shot, under the current rollout plans.
Julie Mantua, a registered ECE working at a child care centre in Oakville, Ont., said there haven’t been any “clear answers” as to when she, at age 39 and not in a “hot spot,” is eligible for vaccination under Phase 2.
“It’s disappointing because we are open, if we were shut down that [timeline] would have been fine but we’ve been deemed essential and I feel like should have been taken into consideration,” Mantua said in a telephone interview with CTVNews.ca Thursday.
Mantua also said the Ford government’s announcement moving schools to virtual learning over safety concerns felt like “mixed messaging” for those working as ECEs and in child care centres.
“Saying it’s not safe for kids to be in schools, teachers to be in schools – well why is it safe for kids under five to be at child care and for ECEs to be at work?” she said, adding that it is “a little bit offensive” for ECEs to not be considered educators prioritized for vaccines under Phase 2 the way teachers are.
“It's definitely a field that's been very underappreciated, not just in the last year, but since I've been working in the industry in the last 20 years,” Mantua said. “The first five years of a child's life is the most critical in child development and brain development - so recognize that we are educators, not just babysitters watching the kids, we’re like teachers.”
Mantua said she would like to see child care centres, many of them non-profit, receive personal protective equipment and assistance with air filtration devices if they are going to remain open as an essential service.
Supervisor of Toronto’s Petits Amis Children’s Centre, Vicki Rout, told CTVNews.ca in an email that it feels like the “government not only do not value daycare workers but are setting daycares up for outbreaks.”
Brian Public School, where the centre is located, was shut down by Toronto Public Health in March due to a COVID-19 outbreak, but the child care centre inside the school remained open to the toddler and pre-school programs.
“It has been very nerve-wracking for all involved,” Rout said. “For the families at the centre I’m sure they are nervous about having their child in daycare, for the staff…they want to ensure that they and their families are safe.”
Rout said the Ontario government has put daycares in a “very tricky position.”
“They keep saying how daycares and daycare teachers are essential but they do not treat us as essential,” she said. “If centres choose to close to protest the families they serve…they may lose their grants the government provides – it centres stay open, how can they ensure everyone will be safe?”
Rout says daycare teachers “need protection now.”
Of the 5,238 child care centres open across Ontario, approximately 502 of them are dealing with at least one COVID-19 case, according to provincial data.
In a statement emailed to CTVNews.ca, Caitlin Clark, spokesperson for Ontario’s Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said “our commitment is to get every single child care worker in Ontario vaccinated as soon as supply becomes available — quite frankly we need more vaccines from the federal government to deliver on this urgent imperative….Minister Lecce has continued to advocate for the accelerated delivery of vaccines to all child care workers as soon as supply is available.”
“Our priority is keeping our child care centers open and most especially safe,” Clark wrote.
‘LOTS OF ANXIETY’
CEO of the Canadian Child Care Federation, Don Giesbrecht, said daycares and child care centres have become a “pressure point” in terms of vaccination rollout.
“We know that child care has been essential since the beginning of COVID-19, we know that governments do not want to shut down child care the way they shut down schools,” Giesbrecht said on CTV’s Your Morning Thursday. “They know that in order for other essential workers to go to work and other people to go to work, child care centres have to remain open so that families are economically viable.”
Giesbrecht said there is “lots of anxiety” when examining the “disconnect” for vaccine rollout.
“We’ll use Ontario as a very prime example here – teachers have been flagged and prioritized for early vaccination while early childhood educators, those people working very closely and in a very caring environment with young children have not,” he said.
Other provinces like Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have not included ECEs and daycare workers in their current phases of vaccine rollout.
In a statement emailed to CTVNews.ca, assistant director of communications for Alberta Health Tom McMillan said since last spring there have been fewer than 70 reported outbreaks in the 2,500 programs open and providing care to approximately 54,000 children in the province.
“We recognize that early childhood educators, daycare workers and many other occupations would benefit from receiving the vaccine, and we want to offer it to them as soon as possible,” McMillan said, but added that “unfortunately” supply is limited.
“Early childhood educators and daycare workers are not specifically offered the vaccine as a group. Instead, anyone with a serious underlying health condition or who is 55 or older, including early childhood educators and daycare workers, can get the vaccine.”
McMillan said “no decisions have been made” on Alberta’s Phase 3 of the vaccination rollout.
In Quebec, a provincial spokesperson confirmed to CTVNews.ca that ECEs and child care workers are eligible for vaccination in the Montreal area since April 11 and province-wide since April 14.
Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island both have ECEs and child care workers in their Phase 2 rollout, and the northern territories of the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut have inoculated most of their populations over the age of 18 willing to get vaccinated.
A provincial spokesperson for B.C. told CTVNews.ca in an email that the province intends to start vaccinating ECEs and child care workers “in the coming days” as part of its Phase 3 rollout.
Giesbrecht said that at the beginning of the pandemic the safety protocols implemented at child care centres and daycares were working, but now through either “variants and the relaxing of rules or relaxing of how people are interacting in society,” infections have found their way into child care programs.