Teacher vaccine row: When should school staff get jabs?

Tes answers key questions about a proposal that teachers should be given Covid vaccine during the February half-term
29th January 2021, 5:25pm


Teacher vaccine row: When should school staff get jabs?

Coronavirus & Schools: When Should Teachers Get The Covid Vaccine? During Half-term?

It’s been one of the biggest talking points in education this week, and yet we’re no closer to a consensus.

With the government aiming to open schools to more pupils from 8 March, should teachers be bumped up the priority list and given the Covid-19 vaccination during the February half-term?

Here Tes answers a number of key questions about the proposal.

Labour: Call for teacher vaccination programme at half-term

Boris Johnson: We hope to reopen schools from 8 March

Coronavirus: Teacher vaccine won’t help schools open, says top medic

Coronavirus: Why the sudden row over half-term vaccines for teachers?

It all kicked off when Labour said during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions that Boris Johnson should bring forward the time frame for vaccinating key workers - including teachers - to the February half-term.

Teachers should be vaccinated once people in the top four JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) priority groups have had the jab, ahead of any wide reopening of schools, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said.

These top four priority categories include older care home residents and carers, all those aged 70 and over, clinically extremely vulnerable individuals, and frontline health and social care workers.

Aren’t vaccinations for teachers during half-term a good idea?

Well, the opposition in Parliament certainly seems to think so. And 46 per cent of the public chose teachers as the group they think should be next prioritised for the vaccine in a national poll published today. But Boris Johnson has not given away any ground.

In response to Sir Keir’s question in the Commons on Wednesday, the prime minister said that teachers in JCVI groups one to nine - which includes all those aged 50 and over, plus people aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions taht put them at higher risk - will be vaccinated as a matter of priority.

This would not bump them above anyone else on the list based purely on their profession.

In a later statement in the Commons, the prime minister said Sir Keir should “really reflect” on his proposal.

“The JCVI priority list, one to nine, is designed by experts and clinicians to prioritise those groups who are most likely to die or suffer from coronavirus,” Mr Johnson said. 

“By trying to change that, and saying that he now wants to bring in other groups of public sector workers, to be decided by politicians, rather than the JCVI, he has to explain which vaccines he would take from which vulnerable groups, to make sense of his policy. That is what he is doing and that is what the Labour proposal would involve.

“Indeed, by making it more difficult for us to vaccinate all those vulnerable groups in the fastest possible way, that Labour policy would delay our route out of lockdown and delay our ability to get kids back into school in the way they want.”

And, in response to questions following his statement, Mr Johnson called Labour’s position on bringing forward vaccines for key workers a “pretend policy”.

So if teachers are bumped up the list, will that mean some over-50s miss out?

Labour have argued there is “capacity” for teachers to be vaccinated alongside the over-50s,

When it was put to her on Wednesday on BBC News that, if teachers were vaccinated during half-term, someone who is around 50 years old could be denied the jab, shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “We’re not saying that we wanted to deny the vaccine to the 50-pluses.

“What we are saying is that there is capacity and vaccinations could be ramped up to 4 million a week, so that the vaccination of school staff, which is a limited number of people and can be accommodated in the programme, could take place alongside the vaccination of the priority groups of over-50s.”

And where do the unions stand on this?

The NEU teaching union yesterday appeared to distance itself from Labour’s suggestion that teachers should be vaccinated during the February half-term, but has maintained its position that school staff should get the jab as a “priority”.

Asked on Good Morning Britain if she thought that all teachers should be vaccinated, NEU joint general secretary Mary Bousted said: “We think that putting teachers and support staff through a vaccination programme in some priority is a good move, but we’ve never said when that should happen. 

“And although that would protect teachers and support staff, and make them more confident about being in schools, it won’t stop community transmission.

“The problem is that by December, secondary pupils were the most infected age group and primary pupils the second most infected age group, and unfortunately schools were acting, as the prime minister said, as vectors for transmission.

“So it would make school staff more confident and more reassured about being in school. That would be one good thing, but it’s not going to stop community transmission from schools. And to do that, we have to make schools really Covid secure. And unfortunately, the measures the government put in place last term didn’t do that.”

And, while it has also called for teachers to be prioritised for the jab, the NAHT school leaders’ union has not backed the half-term vaccine plan.

On its website, under the heading: “Is NAHT calling for school staff to be prioritised for vaccination?”, the union states: “Yes, we believe that after the first phase of vaccinations for the most vulnerable in society has been rolled out, education staff should be considered as a priority for vaccination (particularly those working in specialist provision and early years).

“This reflects not just the crucial role they play, but also the unique working environment school staff are operating in.”

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