Thousands of teachers in Cumbria could jump up the priority list for the coronavirus vaccine if the Government acts on calls from unions, figures suggest.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last night that England would be plunged into another lockdown until at least mid-February, with schools set to be closed for the duration.
By then, Mr Johnson said that the top four priority groups – care home residents and staff, frontline health and social care workers, vulnerable individuals, and everyone over 70 – should have received their injections if the situation in hospitals improve.
Teachers and other school staff are not currently prioritised in the coronavirus vaccine programme, with even people aged 50 to 54 – the youngest group on the priority list – deemed lowest risk in the first wave of vaccinations, meaning they may have to wait weeks for the jab.
The School Workforce Census shows 3,395 teachers in Cumbria were aged below 50 in 2019 – the year with the latest available data – meaning they would wait even longer under current plans.
That was 77 per cent of the 4,387 teachers whose age was listed in the census, with the largest proportion (33 per cent) in the 40 to 49 age group.
The figures cover teachers from all schools in the area, as well as those directly employed by the local authority.
Putting school staff on the priority list would see more than 400,000 teachers bumped up the queue across England, the figures suggest.
Those in priority groups are at the most at risk, the Government says, with current vaccination rollouts aimed at preventing deaths and protecting the health and social care sector.
But Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said the school workforce should also be prioritised to “help facilitate a speedy return to face-to-face education”. It follows a statement earlier this week – signed by NAHT, the National Education Union (NEU), the NASUWT teachers’ union, GMB, Unison and Unite – which warned bringing pupils back into classrooms had risked fuelling the pandemic further by exposing teachers to the risk of serious illness.
“No time should be wasted in preparing for an orderly and sustainable return”, Mr Whiteman added. The view is supported by children’s charity Unicef, which said giving teachers the vaccine would allow them to teach in person and keep schools open.
A UK-wide petition calling for teachers, school and childcare staff to be prioritised for the jab had also attracted more than 270,000 signatures by Tuesday afternoon.
In his televised address to the nation, Mr Johnson said that if the vaccination programme went well it would allow restrictions in the third national lockdown to be eased. He did not suggest that the priority groups would be reviewed or amended.