Teachers call for priority access to COVID-19 vaccinations during 'critical time'

Teachers call for priority access to COVID-19 vaccinations

Regional NSW Teachers have heightened their calls for all school staff to be given priority access to COVID-19 vaccinations, saying there is in a critical window of time without any active cases.

Independent Education Union NSW Hunter organiser Therese Fitzgibbon said the government must take proactive action to safeguard school staff, students and the community.

"Teachers are essential for the running of the economy," she said.

"We're concerned about the impacts on the economy if schools aren't open and obviously the safety and welfare of our members.

"Some schools will have upwards of 1000 children coming in to them a day.

"A secondary teacher could have 240 student interactions a day, not to mention you may have 100 plus staff in fairly close quarters in a staff room.

"Classrooms are not routinely well ventilated particularly in winter."

She said the government had been "reactive" giving teachers from South West Sydney hotspots priority access to vaccination and even then, these staff were having difficulties making appointments with no way to prove their employment when booking.

"Let's be proactive so we're not in the situation where we're having to return to home learning."

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NSW Teachers Federation senior vice president Amber Flohm said teachers were considered essential workers and "priority must go along with that essential service".

"This is a critical time for teachers to be given priority access as they are back teaching face to face in the Hunter, that makes their exposure to community heightened, unlike others in Greater Sydney who are currently undertaking remote learning.

"So now is a critical time to roll out that vaccine... while they are face to face."

Ms Flohm said NSW Hunter region teachers who were eligible due to their age had not been able to access vaccination.

"Their wait times are going as far as September and October."

Calls are also growing for clarity around the public health order that allow residents of the Central Coast - part of under-lockdown Greater Sydney - to travel to Newcastle for work or education where it is not possible at home.

The government has recommended staff travelling from Greater Sydney to a regional NSW school should get tested every seven days, regardless of whether they have flu-like symptoms.

Ms Fitzgibbon said the IEU wanted greater consistency and "common sense" from the government.

She said the IEU had received calls from staff living on the Central Coast confused about whether to attend Hunter workplaces, as well as from Hunter staff asking about safety in their schools.

Meanwhile she said some teachers were staying at home for 14 days after returning recently from Sydney "hotspots".

"There's still a lot of confusion as to who can do what," she said.

"[The order] almost suggests that if you're travelling for work you have some sort of protection, the virus knows you're travelling for essential work and it doesn't affect you. It's pretty ludicrous.

"You're either having stay at home orders or you're not."

She said the IEU would support employers putting provisions in place for affected staff and students to work and learn from home.

"If the health advice is that people shouldn't travel, then people shouldn't travel," she said.

"Travelling for essential work doesn't automatically put a bubble around you.

"The government has to be more consistent - you either can travel or you can't.

"'You can't travel unless you have to' is nonsensical to me."

A Department of Education spokesman said if any member of staff or a student has any COVID-19 symptoms, or are unwell, they should not attend school and should have a COVID test immediately.

If a person is tested for COVID-19, they are to isolate at home prior to receiving their test results.

"All staff and students of a school in regional NSW are expected to be at school."

The department has recommended all staff and students in year seven or above wear masks indoors.

The spokesman said Hunter schools were well prepared to support students learning from home at very short notice if required, "given their experience from last year and the resources available".

This story Teachers call for priority access to COVID-19 vaccinations first appeared on Newcastle Herald.