The Scottish Government has been urged to rethink its vaccination strategy to ‘protect education’ following the announcement occupational groups will not be prioritised in the fight against Covid-19.
Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, has launched a campaign to ensure school staff are protected from the virus.
It comes as the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended people receive their jab based on age group – not their jobs in the second priority phase.
Experts said it would be too complex to identify people based on their occupation and could ultimately cause a delay to the programme.
Over-40s will be prioritised in the second phase of the delivery plan, which is expected to start by mid-April.
We’re not asking to get ahead of everyone because we recognise that there are priority groups who are rightly being protected first.”
David Baxter, Dundee EIS
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said vaccinating teachers would ease safety concerns over crowded classrooms.
He said: “The announcement today, by the UK Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation (JCVI) recommending that occupational groups should not be prioritised for vaccination, will greatly heighten the concerns of school staff over the safety of working in crowded classrooms without adequate safety mitigations in place.
“The Scottish Government has urged its devolved authority in the past to prioritise the vaccination of other groups of vital workers, such as care home staff, and must now act to ensure all staff in our schools are also protected from Covid risk.”
We want schools to be open and to offer a quality learning environment for our young people – but this must be done safely, with appropriate safety mitigations in place.”
Larry Flanagan, EIS General Secretary
The Protect Education campaign asks members to email First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to highlight the need for enhanced safety measures, such as vaccinations, improved ventilation and medical-grade face coverings.
Teachers have been provided with asymptomatic lateral flow testing kits to improve the safety of schools.
David Baxter, spokesman of the union’s Dundee branch, said teachers did not want to jump the queue, however vaccinations would add be a welcome safety tool.
“Staff and teachers are really keen to get kids back in front of them,” he said. “We recognise that the best learning and teaching takes place in the classroom.
“But at the same time we want it to be as safe as possible for ourselves and for the kids.
“We’ve seen what’s happened when there has been a case in schools. It’s really difficult because if you get one positive case, often with self-isolation, you’re taking out whole classrooms, teachers and everyone who has been in contact with them.
“Dundee schools have been good at keeping bubbles and minimising that but one of the things that will make schools safer is vaccinations.
“We’re not asking to get ahead of everyone because we recognise that there are priority groups who are rightly being protected first.
“But it goes along with the lateral flow testing which we’re really pleased has been introduced.
“It’s another tool in making schools safe. It’s not a silver bullet where once staff are vaccinated that social distancing won’t be necessary and masks will be removed, but it’s one of the tools that will help make schools and society a safer place.”
On the campaign launch, Mr Flanagan added: “Clearly we want schools to be open and to offer a quality learning environment for our young people – but this must be done safely, with appropriate safety mitigations in place to protect school staff, pupils and their families.”
The lobbying campaign will make use of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) online platform Megaphone and will be supported through social media using #ProtectEducationEIS.