As schools across the Riverina prepare to return to classrooms under new COVID restrictions tomorrow, some educators are calling for teachers to be added to the priority workers list for a COVID vaccine.
Riverina representative for the Independent Education Union Lyn Caton said the union and teachers across the region want to see teachers given priority for the vaccine as they continue to work at the heart of the community.
"The potential for making the whole community ill is massive and that is a massive responsibility," Ms Caton said. "We're all trying to launch from the same platform, everyone needs to be safe and well so we can do our jobs and whatever that takes needs to be provided."
"We have been lobbying very hard for teachers to have access to be moved up the food chain to get the vaccine and have it available to them instead of being told they might not get it."
Martin Combs has a child in primary school and one in high school at Wagga Christian College and said he considers teachers to be essential workers.
"If you think back to the start of the pandemic, the schools managed to stay open for essential workers and I was pretty impressed with that," Mr Combs said.
"The schools do do a great job of protecting their staff but just as with any essential work, it's hard to have a risk free environment so I would think [vaccines] would be a sensible way to approach it."
Department of Education Deputy Secretary of operations Murat Dizdar supported Education Minister Sarah Mitchell in calling for teachers to be prioritised.
"Teaching is the profession that creates all professions, one of the most paramount professions in our society," Mr Dizdar said. "Our teachers are remarkable on a daily basis, and that is why our Minister for Education has been very strong in advocating that this profession be given priority for vaccination."
He said in the meantime they are strongly encouraging teachers over 40 to take up the vaccine.
Currently a teacher under 40 who does not fall into a priority group because of a family connection or health concern is not eligible to receive the preferred Pfizer vaccine as part of the current stage of the rollout. Like all Australians under 40 they have the option of volunteering for AstraZeneca in consultation with a GP.
Principal at Wagga Christian School Phillip Wilson said while a fully vaccinated staff body would be welcome, he believes the limited supply of vaccines should be prioritised for people more at-risk than teachers at this stage.
"I am more than happy with priority given to medical staff," Mr Wilson said. "There is a tension point because the government wants to say schools are safe, it is not carried by kids and that teachers are safe [so] teachers can fit in with the general population."
"I don't think a younger teacher should jump ahead of someone who is vulnerable."
Ms Caton said that schools needing to remain open in some form throughout the pandemic meant that staff should have been at the front of the queue.
"Now we know there is a shortage, but we've always said teacher support staff and workers in school should have been offered the vaccine because we have to remain open," she said. "Even if there is remote learning it never shuts down completely because you still have to provide school for essential workers."
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