Vaccinate school staff if you want to get pupils back into classrooms, Boris urged

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The government is being urged to put teachers and school staff on the priority list for Covid-19 vaccination if they want to see schools and colleges re-open in February.

Calls have come from education unions as well as Robert Halfon MP, chair of the Education Select Committee.

However, aside from frontline NHS and social care workers, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has prioritised vaccination by age and high-risk health conditions.

The JCVI states that any other “occupational prioritisation”, which would include for school staff, could form part of a second phase of vaccination later this year.

It comes as a petition to prioritise teachers, school and childcare staff for the vaccine has amassed well over 300,000 signatures, meaning it will most likely be debated in Parliament.

The petition states: “Advice from the JCVI on the priority groups for a Covid-19 vaccine does not include school/childcare workers. This petition calls for these workers, who cannot distance or use PPE, to be kept safe at work by being put on the vaccine priority list.”

However, during the Downing Street briefing on Tuesday, January 5, the chief medical officer Chris Whitty, said they would be following the JCVI priority list.

When it comes to the rest of the population, he added: “There will have to be some decisions made about that in due course, but we are some way from that, and I think the key thing is prioritising those who are most likely to come to clinical harm.”

As of December 30, the priority list for vaccination was as follows:

  1. Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers.
  2. All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers.
  3. All those 75 years of age and over.
  4. All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals.
  5. All those 65 years of age and over.
  6. All individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality.
  7. All those 60 years of age and over.
  8. All those 55 years of age and over.
  9. All those 50 years of age and over.

The latest guidance from the JCVI states: “It is estimated that taken together, these groups represent around 99 per cent of preventable mortality from Covid-19.”

The JCVI is not currently advising further prioritization by occupation. It adds: “The committee considered evidence on the risk of exposure and risk of mortality by occupation. Under the priority groups, those over 50 years of age, and all those 16 years of age and over in a risk group, would be eligible for vaccination within the first phase of the programme.

“This prioritisation captures almost all preventable deaths from Covid-19, including those associated with occupational exposure to infection. As such, JCVI does not advise further prioritisation by occupation during the first phase of the programme.

“Occupational prioritisation could form part of a second phase of the programme, which would include healthy individuals from 16 years of age up to 50 years of age, subject to consideration of the latest data on vaccine safety and effectiveness.”

Before Christmas, the National Education Union (NEU) urged the government to use the first weeks of January to vaccinate school staff to ensure schools could remain fully open.

And as schools closed to the majority of pupils this week, other unions also echoed these calls.

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “It is extremely disappointing that the government has not yet signalled rolling out the vaccine to prioritise schools and education staff. Keeping teachers free from Covid is the best way to ensure that children’s education does not continue to be disrupted going forwards.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: The case for prioritising the school workforce for vaccination, alongside other key workers, is strong, in order to help facilitate a speedy return to face to face education.”

And speaking to Schools Week on Tuesday, Mr Halfon said: “There is no doubt in my mind that teachers and support staff should be a priority for vaccination alongside NHS workers. As soon as teachers and support staff are vaccinated, we can open schools again.”


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