COVID-19: Teacher associations demand vaccine for all school workers

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      Associations representing teachers across the Vancouver Coastal Health region are demanding that the province vaccinate all K-to-12 school workers.

      An April 9 release signed by the presidents of seven teacher associations referenced the record numbers of daily new COVID-19 cases in B.C. and the spread of the novel coronavirus variants.

      North Vancouver Teachers’ Association president Carolyn Pena noted that teachers have been helping keep schools open for the past eight months. 

      “Teachers have continued to work directly with students in full classrooms since September,” Pena said. “With the sharp rise in cases and the widespread prevalence of variants now in BC, the risk to the health of teachers and their families is escalating. Access to vaccinations is vital to ensuring the health and safety of teachers, so that schools can continue to support students.”

      On March 18, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Premier John Horgan, along with immunization executive lead Dr. Penny Ballem and Health Minister Adrian Dix, announced that essential workers, including teachers, would be expedited in the vaccine-rollout schedule.

      The president of the Richmond Teachers’ Association, Liz Baverstock, said all essential workers and school staff, not just teachers, need vaccinations.

      “We have been collaborative, we have been patient, and we have been understanding,” Baverstock said. “During spring break, the province committed to vaccinating K–12 staff. We have already seen the province change the vaccination strategy in other ways, so we are asking B.C. to shift its current vaccination plan and focus on vaccinating all K–12 staff and other essential workers whose jobs require them to interact closely with the public.”

      The release also said that despite three weeks having elapsed since the province's promise, only "some school districts in Fraser Health, such as Surrey" have seen essential education workers receive vaccinations. "Teachers say it is time for Vancouver Coastal Health to follow suit and vaccinate school staff in districts with high numbers of school exposures."

      "If schools are essential and keeping schools open is a priority, then everyone who works in schools must be vaccinated," the release went on to state. "After health care, the education sector has had the most COVID-related WorkSafeBC claims. Schools will have to close if too many staff are sick."

      Horgan stated in November 2020 that children "are not transmitters of COVID", a declaration that drew criticism from local and international health experts. Renée Willock, president of the West Vancouver Teachers’ Association, referenced the COVID-19 variants in the call for an extended vaccination program.

      “Given that variants seem to infect much younger people, and that they are more contagious, those who work in schools should be given priority,” Willock said. “We have heard reports of Pfizer and Moderna being used to target localized hot spots in B.C., and we’d like to see that extended to school staff.”

      The other association presidents whose names were on the release were Treena Goolieff of the Vancouver Secondary Teachers’ Association; the Powell River and District Teachers’ Association's Izi Loveluck; April Lowe of the Sea to Sky Teachers’ Association; and Joanne Sutherland, who heads up the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association.