Why teachers need to be promised vaccine priority – now

If keeping schools open is vital – as the government says – teachers must be prioritised for the vaccine, says Paul Read

Paul Read

Coronavirus and schools: Why teachers need priority for the Covid-19 vaccine

Ten minutes into an English lesson, a senior member of staff in a face mask slips in through the already propped open door and, without fanfare, calls out a list of names. 

Six students, including two girls from the front row next to my desk, stand up, pack their books away and tug their own masks across their mouths. They follow the teacher out of the classroom and aren’t seen again.

These children are on their way home to self-isolate for two weeks, after seating plans revealed that they’d been sitting next to another pupil who had tested positive for Covid-19

About an hour later, a head of department waves me a hurried goodbye in the staffroom. It turns out her two children have been sent home from another school and she, therefore, is having to isolate, too. The cover supervisor wears a pale expression at the end of the day.

Coronavirus: Teachers' place in the vaccine priority list

The news that the UK government has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is great news, but the announcement that teachers “could be” a priority in the second phase is less so.

There’s no question that the most vulnerable members of our society – care home residents and workers, the over-80s, NHS frontline staff – should receive the vaccine first. But that word “could” hammers home to our profession all we need to know about how we’re regarded. 

Schools, lest we forget, are not considered high-risk environments. Teachers, unequivocally, should be near the front of the queue for the vaccine, but to admit this would be to admit that we have been put in danger in the first place. 

And this is where things come painfully close to double standards. Since schools are essential for society, and remained open during lockdown when many other sectors closed, why would we allow a situation where dozens of pupils per school are being packed off back home each day – and their teachers forced to isolate – to continue?

Either schools are truly vital or they’re not. Winter will arrive with her attendant snows and sub-zero mornings, and more and more disruptions to learning are bound to follow.

Making the cold months ahead easier to bear

Put simply, if schools are to remain open and functioning properly, school staff need to be prioritised for the vaccine

Boris Johnson is right when he says the British public shouldn’t get carried away by “over-optimism” in the wake of the Pfizer announcement – a perfect storm of complacency awaits us all if we add the end of lockdown to the vaccine news and multiply by Christmas – but a sense of where we’re ultimately headed, at least for teaching staff, would be welcome. 

Yes, the anti-vaxxers are vocal. Yes, the vaccine rollout will take time. Yes, its implementation will not cure humankind of Covid-19 overnight. 

But these cold months ahead will be easier to bear for so many of us with an acknowledgement that what teachers and support staff – and, let’s not forget, students – are doing every day is not only understood but also valued. 

Promising a vaccination of Britain’s pay-frozen teachers would be an honourable start. 

Paul Read has been teaching for 15 years, and currently works as a supply teacher in East Sussex

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