The recent spate of COVID-19 cases in schools across Sydney’s eastern suburbs indicates yet again that teachers and support staff should be prioritized for vaccination.
“The IEU has been calling for teachers to be included in priority groups for vaccination since January this year,” said Acting Independent Education Union of Australia NSW/ACT Branch Secretary Carol Matthews. The IEU represents teachers and support staff in the non-government education sector.
“Our position has stayed the same since January – it is not only in the interests of teachers and support staff to get vaccinated, but also the entire community,” Matthews said.
The Delta variant of the virus has proved to be far more transmissible, particularly among children:
- Emanuel School in Randwick has notified parents of a positive case in a student.
- A student at Rose Bay College has tested positive, meaning more than 1300 high school students and all staff from the school were directed to self-isolate on the first day of school holidays.
- A student at St Charles Catholic Primary School at Waverley has contracted the virus, a case that has not yet been linked to previous clusters.
- Mount Sinai College, a primary school and pre-school in Maroubra, has also informed parents that a member of the school community had tested positive.
All this has taken place within the space of a week, creating great stress during school holidays. And if the outbreak is not contained by the end of the break, schools will again be facing closures, disrupting working families and businesses.
“It takes just one case of COVID-19 to shut down an entire school, impacting hundreds of families – interrupting learning and impeding parents and guardians’ ability to work,” Matthews said.
The IEU has asked employers in non-government schools to provide paid vaccination leave for employees who are unable to arrange vaccinations during school holidays or outside work time. “If schools are to reopen in Term 3, they must be safe for staff and students,” Matthews said. “The same rules around mask wearing should apply to schools as they do in other workplaces.”
The IEU is frequently contacted by teachers and support staff who are keen to be vaccinated – but they need vaccines to be available to them. “We’ve been saying since the start of the pandemic that teachers and support staff are essential workers and should be prioritised for vaccination,” Matthews said.
“Prioritising teachers and support staff for vaccination is the least the federal government could do to support them after the support they provided to their school communities over the past year.”
In 2020, more than 50 schools in NSW had to close due to cases of COVID-19. This required extensive contact tracing and deep cleaning before they could reopen, taking up to several days and costing in the tens of thousands. With vaccination, this scenario is preventable.
Health experts agree. Murdoch Children’s Research Institute vaccine uptake expert Associate Professor Margie Danchin said on Monday 28 June that the latest outbreak reinforced the need to prioritise vaccine availability for teachers, “just like we’re prioritising vaccination for staff in aged care and disability care”.