Calls grow for teachers and support staff to be made priority for COVID jab as schools are cited as the key to opening up society

Protecting teachers and school staff against coronavirus is a "no-brainer" says one Leeds head as the government agrees it will consider more frontline staff in the second phase of its vaccine roll-out.

Friday, 22nd January 2021, 6:00 am

This week the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) will consider all available evidence for phase 2 recommendations and that includes "targeted vaccination of those at high risk of exposure".

Chris Dyson, is the headteacher at Parklands Primary School at Seacroft, which currently has 78 children attending school during the lockdown and around 335 children on its registers.

While the school is currently operating on a rota whereby teachers work in school for a week, then at home for a week and then back to school, he said that if schools and staff were deemed safe - it would be key to the rest of the country restoring a sense of normality.

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Chris Dyson, head-teacher at Parklands Primary School near Seacroft.

He told the Yorkshire Evening Post:“I appreciate that there is the main priority that is care homes and over 80s but the simple fact is - if teachers and teaching assistants and school office staff - if everybody has the jab, society can move on. Schools can open up, everyone is back in which is what the government wants.

"It is an absolute no-brainer. Jab teachers and get society up and running. Children are way down the list. They are pretty much safe, if they do have something and go to school - teachers and staff have been jabbed, everything carries on."

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He said: "It is absolutely essential. What we have realised is that 99 per cent of students are asymptomatic so we don't know (they have the virus) and they are spreading COVID. When that announcement (lockdown) was made at 8pm and schools were shut the following day, he (the Prime Minister) would not have done that unless he was seriously worried. I absolutely feel that they ought to be prioritised. It sounds selfish, but I am talking objectively."

There are calls to add teachers to the vaccination roll-out programme.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said if education staff are captured in phase 1 due to their age, or clinical risk factors they will be prioritised in that phase. The second phase of delivery is referred to as the next phase and will focus on further reduction in hospitalisation and targeted vaccination of those at high risk of exposure and that decision making for that phase is subject to surveillance and monitoring data and information from phase one, as well as input from scientific experts.

They added: "We are following the advice from independent experts at the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on which groups of people to prioritise for Covid-19 vaccines. They advised the immediate priority should be to prevent deaths and protect health and care staff, with old age deemed the single biggest factor determining mortality.

“The JCVI have considered evidence on the risk of exposure and risk of mortality by occupation. Under the priority groups advised, those working in education aged over 50 years of age or in a medical risk group would be eligible for vaccination. The JCVI will consider all available evidence for phase 2 recommendations of the vaccination programme.”

During Prime Minister's questions in the Commons on Wednesday Boris Johnson was asked, if once the most vulnerable, the elderly and our health and social care workers had been vaccinated, should we then look at prioritising vaccinating police officers, emergency service workers, carers, teachers, nursery staff and all those whose essential daily work brings them into contact with other people?

In his reply Mr Johnson said that while he must rely on what the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) has to say and priorities that the experts have decided, "of course we want to see those groups that he mentions vaccinated as soon as possible."

The news has been welcomed at union level after campaigning from the likes of the Leeds and District branch of the National Education Union, who say schools operating as normal is key to reducing the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

A spokesperson said: "The NEU accepts that the oldest and most vulnerable, along with health and care staff, must be of priority first. It is good news that education staff will be top priority in the next phase and that the government has accepted our argument that it is vitally important that education staff are protected as soon as possible. This will help make schools and colleges safer for staff and reduce disruption caused by COVID.

"Furthermore, there is the issue of transmission among students and their communities and that will continue although the vaccination should lessen that.”

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