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Ontario teachers seeking eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines

As schools stay open amid the third wave of the pandemic, Ontario teachers say they should be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible.

“It feels heavier and harder this time around,” said Ottawa-based grade 7 & 8 teacher Eleri Morgan.

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Rising case counts and variants of concern are the primary reason many teachers said they do not feel safe in the classroom. Erin Epler teaches Grade 1 in the Region of Peel.

She worries about contracting the virus and spreading it to others at work, as well as bringing it home to her family.

“It feels more realistic that I or one of my colleagues could catch this from a student,” Epler said.

Saturday on Twitter, one ICU physician posted about a 47-year-old teacher who was healthy, until coming in to contact with a COVID-19 positive student. Now they are intubated and in intensive care.

While school boards have implemented a host of safety measures since the start of the pandemic, many teachers say they can be a challenge to execute given the nature of how kids behave, and the size of their classrooms.

“They need lunch containers open, they need shoes tied,” Epler said.

“When you are handing work out, or you are asking if they would like the garbage, and you have to bring the garbage close and bring it back, and remember to hand sanitize,” Morgan added.

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Some said another challenge is having enough supply teachers on hand to help backfill teachers who are absent because of potential COVID-19 exposures.

“We’ve hit the point in our school year where we are not getting supply teachers because there are no supply teachers because of those absences,” said Lyndsay Houghtling, an elementary teacher from Brantford, Ont.

Some doctors said vaccinating teachers should be part of the current conversation, and that might require the current vaccine rollout plan to change.

Infectious diseases physician Dr. Zain Chagla said this is particularly important in regions where case counts are rising quickly.

“If an incidence in a particular region is above a certain threshold, say 80 per 100,000, and you continue to offer schools in those regions, then you probably should be bringing teachers in to get vaccinated as part of that effort,” Chagla said.

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High school teacher Brad Barter was lucky to become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in March. He said it relieves some of the pressure because he teaches multiple classes. Barter said the last thing he wants is to spread the virus unknowingly.

“Is there still that risk of transmission, yes there is, but it’s a lot less,” Barter said.

Now other teachers wait their turn, and the current rollout plan in Ontario indicates many teachers will not be eligible for the vaccine until June.

“It is disappointing and a little bit hurtful that it’s not a priority and we’ll get to you when we can get to you, when we are all breathing a sigh of relief in the summer,” Morgan said.

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