Manitoba’s COVID-19 vaccination schedule does not include teachers as a priority group, despite their essential role on the frontlines of education.
“To be clear, we’re not asking to jump the queue,” said MTS President James Bedford. “But what we’re asking is: Let’s follow the lead of Ontario, let’s get those education workers next in line.”
Across Canada, Ontario is the only province that has officially prioritized teachers for the COVID-19 vaccine. Teachers in Ontario are included on that province’s list of frontline essential workers and will be vaccinated between February and July 2021.
However many provinces have included “essential frontline workers” in their plans which is expected to include teachers. Manitoba’s plan does not include essential frontline workers. In fact, Manitoba has yet to determine the definition of an essential worker. Health officials said this process could take several months, as it would require consultation with stakeholders.
So, while the Manitoba government hums and haws about what constitutes an essential worker, teachers continue to work in conditions that risk their health and safety, every day just as they have been since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.
One teacher on social media put it best, “Teachers, educational assistants and daycare workers are in a unique position. We are the only essential workers who work directly with the one group who cannot be vaccinated but can still carry and get COVID – children.”
This teacher is referring to the fact that Pfizer’s vaccine is only authorized for ages 16 and up, while Moderna’s vaccine is for ages 18 and up.
Because children are less impacted by COVID-19, clinical trials are prioritizing adults which means that children will be one of the lowest priorities for the vaccine and teachers will continue to face risks by being exposed daily.
In addition to leaving teachers off the vaccine priority list, the province has failed to implement the MTS recommendation to make masks mandatory for those in kindergarten to Grade 3. While teachers wait to be vaccinated, mandatory masks would enhance school safety by adding another layer of protection.
One teacher said that she works in a small, enclosed space with very little ventilation and because there is no mandatory mask policy for K-3, her students are without masks, increasing her risk of exposure.
“Vaccinating school staff will help keep schools open,” she said.
So how great is the risk that teachers face? A teacher on Twitter offers some insight, “I see 200 different students a day.”
Another educator said, “Teachers can also have higher infection risk, due to health factors, such as auto-immune disorders, high blood pressure, age, etc. As well, increased exposure which directly correlates to increased risk.”
For the record, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “essential” as something necessary and indispensable. This pandemic has reinforced the importance of educators and highlighted the government’s failure to protect one of its greatest assets.
A Slap in the Face to All Members
The provincial government’s priority COVID-19 vaccination list does not include teachers.
“This is a slap in the face to all the teachers and education staff that have been on the frontlines of education since day one of this pandemic,” said MTS President James Bedford. “This pandemic has proven that teachers are essential workers. They have put their health and safety at considerable risk to ensure that children continued to be educated. This government has failed teachers.”
Bedford said that Manitoba has been slow to act throughout this pandemic in regards to teacher health and safety and leaving teachers off the vaccine priority list is more proof of their disregard and disrespect about the important role of teachers.
“The premier and the minister have been singing the praises of teachers for months now, but clearly it was nothing more than lip service,” he said. “Teachers don’t need a pat on the back, what they need is a shot in the arm so that they can continue to do what they do best – teach in a classroom.”
The province has yet to determine if essential workers will be a priority for the vaccine. Furthermore, the province has to develop a list for who qualifies as an essential worker. The essential worker list will not be available for several months.