Should teachers, education workers be given COVID-19 vaccine priority?
TORONTO -- As Canada continues with some of its first vaccinations against COVID-19, the Canadian Teachers' Federation (CTF) is pushing for educators to be included on the priority list.
CTF president Shelley Morse told CTV News Channel on Tuesday that teachers should be next in line to get vaccinated to ensure schools stay open amid the pandemic.
"We are calling on the provincial and territorial governments to ensure that teachers and education workers are among the first to receive the vaccine, after vulnerable populations and the health-care workers," Morse said.
Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends those in long-term care homes, their staff, frontline health-care workers, seniors, and Indigenous communities be among the first to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.
However, the committee has not yet provided guidance on who should follow these groups in the second phase of inoculations.
The Canadian Teachers' Federation, a not-for-profit organization which represents 300,000 teachers and education workers across the country, said in a press release issued Tuesday that those working in schools put themselves at risk of COVID-19 exposure "every day."
Morse explained to CTV News Channel that teachers are in close contact with students and other adults indoors with poor ventilation for hours at a time. Morse added that even if schools try to adhere to physical distancing, she said class sizes are too large to maintain the sufficient distance required to prevent transmission.
"If you have 20 to 40 students in your classroom, it's virtually impossible to keep them two metres apart and masks aren't mandatory in some jurisdictions, and if they are, it's only for grades five to 12 so we don't see the same protections as are in place in the public," Morse said.
With these discrepancies in public health measures, Morse said giving teachers and education workers vaccine priority would add an "extra layer of protection" that would keep not just themselves safe, but also students and their families.
She added that vaccinating teachers and education workers will also ensure that in-person teaching can continue.
"Going back to online learning will not be conducive to good learning for students and they've already had three or four months of that. If we can keep schools open, that's what our goal should be and in order to do that schools have to be safe and sustainable," Morse said.
PROVINCIAL GUIDANCE ON VACCINE PRIORITY
While provincial and territorial governments ultimately decide who gets vaccine priority, former Ontario deputy minister of education Charles Pascal told CTVNews.ca that teachers should "absolutely" be given vaccine priority.
Pascal, who is a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, said in an email on Wednesday that the lack of data on how COVID-19 presents itself in children is reason enough to vaccinate teachers.
"We have known for months that children increasingly have been shown to be asymptomatic carriers -- this needs to be recognized. It is clear that teachers are front-line workers in all regards and deserve priority," Pascal said.
He noted that the public health measures enacted in schools don't do enough to protect teachers, education workers and those who come into contact with them outside of those facilities.
"Provincial governments like Ontario have placed teachers and students in very difficult circumstances because of government's abysmal planning and support both for schools and the communities as large. As a result, more and more schools are having outbreaks, closing left and right," Pascal said.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the province will get to vaccinating everyone who wants a shot in time.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliot added that the province is working to determine the next levels of priority for its vaccine rollout, but maintains that the priority remains on staff and residents of long-term care homes "for the next while."
Tom McMillan, assistant director of communications for Albert Health, told CTVNews.ca the province recognizes the important role teacher's play, but said no decisions have been made on the priority of the next phase of Alberta’s immunization effort given the limited number of doses available.
He noted that the second phase of the province's vaccine rollout won't take place until April 2021 and until then, the focus remains on "those who are most vulnerable, and health-care workers who serve them."
"Our goal is to immunize Albertans as safely and effectively as possible. As more vaccine becomes available, we will be able to expand our approach," McMillan said in an email on Wednesday.
In B.C., elementary and high school teachers, as well as child-care providers are included in the second phase of its vaccine distribution, set to take place in spring 2021.
However, it is not yet known if educators will be the first ones to receive jabs in that second priority group which also includes health-care workers not in long-term care homes or on the frontlines, police officers, fire fighters, transit employees, and people working in grocery stores, among others.
WHAT OTHER COUNTRIES ARE DOING
UNESCO, the United Nations agency for education, called on governments on Monday to give teachers priority access to COVID-19 vaccines.
UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay stressed in a joint video message with the head of the Education International teachers' organization, David Edwards, that teachers should be treated like "frontline" workers.
They noted that when education facilities closed at the start of the pandemic to help prevent the spread of the virus, "teachers and support personnel remained on the frontline."
As classes shifted to online learning last spring, Azoulay and Edwards said teachers "reinvented" how to teach students, and when facilities reopened, teachers "courageously" returned to the classroom.
An alliance of labour organizations and groups representing American teachers, principals and support staff are also calling on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prioritize educators after the first wave of vaccinations.
In the U.K., Education Secretary Gavin Williamson suggested in early December that officials are "looking" at prioritizing teachers in vaccine rollout plans to minimize widespread disruption to schools.
Teachers in Russia are set to be among some of the first to receive Sputnik V, the Russian-designed COVID-19 vaccine, as Moscow officials included educators in its high-risk groups encouraged to get the shot.