COVID-19: BCTF unhappy that teachers, other frontline workers not given vaccine priority, demands mask mandate

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      The B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF) expressed disappointment today (January 22) with the province's COVID-19 vaccine-rollout announcement earlier this morning.

      Because teachers were not categorized as being in frontline, high-risk positions for early vaccine consideration, BCTF president Teri Mooring said in a same-day statement that the province must improve safety conditions for its members in the meantime, including making mask use mandatory in all schools.

      "There is no denying that teachers are stressed, anxious, and even afraid," Mooring said in the statement. "We do not have the layers of protection in our schools that exist in other environments. If teachers are not prioritized for a vaccine, this government must take immediate action to improve safety measures in our schools.

      "We must have a mandatory mask mandate, we must have better physical distancing measures, and we must have ventilation upgrades for our classrooms. Schools need the same safety measures as every single other workplace. This government and school districts must do more."

      The B.C. Green Party supported the BCTF in its call for mandatory masks in schools, asking followers on Twitter to sign a petition to that effect.

      Premier John Horgan—along with Health Minister Adrian Dix, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, and Dr Penny Ballem, executive lead for the province's immunization project—gave prioritization details about the vaccine schedule through four phases of distribution from February through September this year.

      Health Minister Adrian Dix, Premier John Horgan, and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

      The plan will see about 7.4 million vaccine doses given to all eligible British Columbians between April and the end of September. Phase 1 has already distributed more than 100,000 initial doses to those deemed most at risk of COVID-19, mostly residents of long-term-care homes, their health-care workers, especially at-risk seniors, and those living in remote Indigenous communities.

      Teachers who don't fall into any of the categories deemed eligible for phases one through three, although not mentioned specifically in the announcement, would appear to be slotted into Phase 4 of the rollout, along with the majority of B.C.'s residents.

      Second doses for Phase 1 recipients are underway now, according to the Ministry of Health and the premier's office. Phase 2 recipients will include other Indigenous communities and their elders, remaining health-care workers, and seniors over 80 years of age and will last from late February through March.

      Beginninmg in April, Phase 3 will see seniors getting vaccinated in five-year groupings, starting with age 75 to 79 and working downward (then 70 to 74, and so on). Also included in Phase 3 will be those with medical conditions—including certain cancers and cystic fibrosis—that make them "clinically extremely vulnerable".

      Phase 4, supposed to start in July and last approximately three months, will provide vaccinations to the rest of the population, including most teachers, starting with ages 55 to 59 and working backwards in five-year increments.

      Mooring acknowledged that those at most serious risk should get the vaccine first, and she expressed the hope that if more doses became available at an earlier time that the schedule could be adjusted to see teachers and other frontline workers made eligible at an earlier time.

      "B.C. teachers, like many others, will be disappointed to see there is no prioritization for the frontline workers who have kept our schools, public services, and economy open. There had been hope in prior announcements that such prioritization would be possible. However, the vaccine supply limit is beyond our control and those among us who are most vulnerable of death and serious illness must be vaccinated first. Hopefully, more vaccines are approved and this immunization strategy will be appropriately adjusted and accelerated."