Teachers in Ontario will be eligible to receive vaccinations beginning next month, but a local teachers union rep says they should have been a part of Phase 1 of the province’s vaccination plans.
On Friday the Ontario government announced its plans for Phase 2 of the vaccination plan in the province, which is set to begin next month. The categories of people who will then be able to receive a shot is being expanded to those between the ages of 60 and 79, individuals with high-risk chronic conditions, those living in high-risk congregate settings and people who cannot work from home, including teachers.
Teachers, especially those working with special needs students, should have been a part of Phase 1 along with health care workers and front-line health care staff, said Gundi Barbour, president of Upper Grand Elementary Teachers Foundation of Ontario (ETFO).
“While everyone was in lockdown our special education teachers were in schools teaching the neediest students, as were our EAs and support staff,” said Barbour. “They were in the building working with those students while it was not safe for anybody else to be at their work site.”
Barbour said teachers who work with special needs children often cannot physically distance from the students they work with.
“It was considered appropriate to have our neediest students, who often cannot mask or socially distance and sometimes need help with bodily functions, to be taught in person,” said Barbour.
The provincial ETFO is advocating for teachers to be prioritized, said Barbour.
“Teachers and staff should be right at the very front of the line followed by any other teachers and educational staff that work directly with students — that includes almost everybody the board of education employs,” she said. “Our teachers are telling us their students are sometimes less than a metre apart, sometimes closer, and ventilation is a concern in some schools and in the winter even more so because one way people deal with ventilation is to open a window.”
It is especially important to vaccinate teachers, said Barbour, because the children they work with cannot currently receive vaccinations.
“It’s a real concern if teachers or education workers are passing this on, how do we protect our children?” said Barbour. “The sooner we can get vaccinated the sooner we can make sure we have all the appropriate safety measures in place the better we can get a handle on this as a society.”
Rapid asymptotic testing that has long been promised in schools and could help in the interim is still not widely used, said Barbour.
“The government has talked about rolling it out but it’s taking its time,” she said.
As of Thursday, a total of 269,000 Ontarians have been fully vaccinated, with 820,000 doses administered so far. Phase 2 is expected to last until July, after which vaccination of the rest of the general public is planned to begin.