Teachers are asking the federal and state governments to vaccinate them as frontline workers, concerned thousands of students could return to school during continuing Covid outbreaks.
Schools are set to go back next Monday in New South Wales, even as Sydney remains in the middle of a Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown, and in Queensland, which is battling a smaller outbreak, with four new locally acquired cases on Monday. Western Australia and South Australia are set to return to school later in July.
In NSW the chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said on Monday that authorities had not yet decided whether students would return as normal, and the government was consulting with schools.
Chant said some restrictions such as minimising the number of parents at school gates, cancelling parent functions on school grounds and preventing mixing between school grades could be brought in, similar to measures in place during last year’s lockdown.
She also announced that a student at Sydney’s Rose Bay public school had tested positive, but the student is a close contact of a known previous case. Students have been on holidays since 28 June, and Chant said the person “may have been infectious at school” but this was still not known, and the department was treating the matter “with an abundance of caution”.
The Australian Education Union has previously asked the federal government to make vaccinating teachers a “priority”.
Amber Flohm, the senior vice-president of the NSW Teachers’ Federation, said teachers should be next in line to be vaccinated after older Australians, healthcare and border workers, and similar groups.
“The federation continues to advocate for the higher priority for teachers as critical workers – and their role as essential to societal function,” she said. “This is of course after current priorities of aged care, healthcare, disability care, border and quarantine and other vulnerable worker and other vulnerable populations.”
Flohm said teachers were eligible in the same age brackets as the general public, rather than as frontline workers.
“The supply of vaccines in NSW continues to concern the federation,” she said. “And given that children and young people are not part of the national rollout for vaccination, the best way to ensure protection for our teachers and our children is to vaccinate teachers as a priority, for the health and safety for all in schools.”
The federal president of the AEU, Correna Haythorpe, has said “education workers around the country are ready to roll up their sleeves and get the jab”.
On Monday the NSW premier, Gladys Berijiklian, did not confirm whether teachers would be given a higher priority for vaccination, instead saying that “many people would like to get the vaccine”.
“A number of teachers, I understand, have already been vaccinated,” she said. “But all of us, any one of us, in and around the community, have potential to spread the virus.
“As soon as we get those extra doses, of course we’ll continue to make sure that we provide the vaccine. But it is really important to note that there are many people who would like to get the vaccine that currently don’t have access to it. The New South Wales government has expressed its frustration along the process but what we have to do is work with what we have.”
She added that it was the commonwealth’s responsibility to “get the vaccine out”.