Schools aren’t safe for unvaccinated teachers

Despite the phased returning of pupils to school this week, teachers have been left out of the priority groups for a Covid-19 vaccine.

Earlier this week, millions of primary and secondary school students returned to school. This is the first step of the government’s easing of lockdown restrictions in the UK. These easings have come due to the success (so far) of the national vaccine rollout. Cases across the country have fallen, as have hospital admissions for those with COVID-19. 

The vaccine rollout priority list has been, up to this point, relatively obvious. Beginning with residents of care homes and staff providing care, followed by those over the age of 80, frontline health workers, and social care workers. From here, the vaccines were offered to the population in descending age order and to the extremely vulnerable. Now that the first dose of the vaccine has been given to the majority of the at-risk population, the government’s decision to re-open schools without first offering the vaccine to teaching staff seems unfathomably ill-advised. 

It is highly apparent schools are not a safe environment for staff without vaccination. The current guidance within schools is for students to wear masks indoors if within two metres of each other and to complete a COVID-19 rapid test twice a week. The testing is not compulsory – I wouldn’t even get my homework planner signed because it wasn’t compulsory, let alone voluntarily insert a swab up my nose. Even if this is too much of a pessimistic view of today’s teenagers and each and every one of them does follow the rules, the spread of the virus, simply through the large-scale gathering of unvaccinated people, will increase. 

Now a significant majority of those most at risk have had their first dose of the vaccine, the government must alter their decision on who to prioritise. Although teaching staff may not be as at risk as the clinically ill, they can still spread the virus, and more circulating virus particles means more mutations – one of which could render the current vaccine(s) useless. If the spread were to become exponential once more, the risk would be drastically altered and the efforts of the population over the last few months proven worthless, again. 

And it isn’t just me who holds this view. An online petition to change the priority of teaching staff has recently reached over 500,000 signatures. The public outcry against the decision is prominent. 

By not prioritising teaching staff for the vaccine, the government is risking the undoing of months of work towards a goal which is finally, hopefully, within reaching distance.

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Harry Hunter

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December 2021
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