Teachers and other education staff must be vaccinated against Covid-19 before schools can reopen, a UK expert has said.
Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) virologist, Professor Deenan Pillay, said that this would have to include teachers, teaching assistants, catering staff, cleaners and administrators.
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Prof Pillay has said that the Government needs to do its utmost to ensure all staff are protected against the virus, as it is essential that schools can reopen safely.
His call for vaccinating workers sooner comes after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that people who work in schools are "top priority" in the next wave of Covid-19 vaccinations.
Mr Williamson said it was “understandably right” that the Government had chosen to prioritise those most at risk of going into hospital, but said he saw education workers as a priority in the next phase.
Speaking at the Education Select Committee, he said: “There’s a school workforce of a million and it is absolutely vital that we do not forget support staff in this because it is often the support staff that are the most exposed.
“I think there is a special need in the area of special schools as well where there is often a crossover between not just an education setting but also as a care and health setting as well.
“It is quite understandably right that the government has chosen to prioritise (for vaccination) those that are most at risk of being hospitalised. But [...] in the next wave where we have to prioritise others, I will make no apology for the fact that I see the top priority as those who work in schools.
“Not just teachers, but all those that work in schools because every single one of them is absolutely vital for delivering education.”
Teachers and key workers next in line?
The Education Secretary was supported by vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi, who told the Commons Science and Technology Committee that it was his “instinct” that teachers, along with other frontline key workers, would be next in line for the vaccine.
He said he believes that there is justification for those who cannot work from home to be prioritised as the vaccination programme develops. However, he added that the decision was not his to make and would instead be that of the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisations (JCVI).
Speaking to ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Mr Zahawi said: “When we enter phase two, we will work with the Joint Committee (on Vaccination and Immunisation) to look at the priority.
“My instinct is that anyone who, through no fault of their own, has to come into contact with the virus in much greater volume and probability should be protected – teachers, policemen and women, shop workers, all those who need that additional protection.
“Now, some of them will be captured in the top nine categories anyway if they are clinically vulnerable, for example, or in that age group of the over-50s which are in category nine, effectively.
“But phase two – of course we’ll be guided by the JCVI – but my instinct is that if you work in a job, a shop worker, policemen or women, any other profession which brings you into contact with the virus unfairly, then I think you should be prioritised.”