Ont. teachers push for COVID-19 vaccines over spring break

Teachers in Ontario are calling for immediate vaccinations for school staff as schools in most regions are set to remain open for in-class learning after the delayed spring break.

With the break approaching, teachers want their vaccinations to begin so they can keep students and themselves safe when classes resume.

“It's disappointing, it's disheartening,” elementary school teacher Lyndsay Houghtling told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday.

Teachers say the clock is ticking, even if the goal is to get teachers vaccinated before the next school year begins in September.

“Mid-May is about the latest that it can possibly happen where we will still have vaccines for education workers, and have all of the second round of shots finished in time for the new school year, but that does nothing for this school year,” she added.

She wants teacher and school staff vaccinations to take place over the spring break, which is set to begin on Monday.

“We have an entire spring break available to us where we could realistically have it all done and have all of our education workers vaccinated, including our educational assistants are seen by [child and youth workers], our custodial staff, our administrative staff,” she said.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said support workers for special needs students will be eligible for the vaccine, along with education workers in high-risk Toronto neighbourhoods.

“As supply allows, we will expand to more high-risk neighborhoods in other hotspots, followed by a rollout to all education workers across the province,” Ford said. “As we ramp up our vaccine distribution, we also need to make sure we take the steps necessary to slow the spread of the virus and protect our ICU and hospital capacity.”

Before Ford’s announcement, Houghtling said that promises from the Ontario government have gone unfulfilled in the past.

“We were promised that we would have lower class sizes to help battle this. We didn't get that in many cases, our classes have actually gone up as classes have collapsed and students have had to be redistributed,” she said. “We haven't seen new nurses, we have not seen more custodial staff, our custodians are doing more with the same amount of time.”

Principals have also been putting pressure on the Ontario government to get school staff vaccinated quickly. Three principals with the Ontario Principals’ Council signed a letter to the government asking for teachers and school staff to be prioritized.

“As case numbers continue to rise, the Association des directions et directions adjointes des écoles franco-ontariennes (ADFO), the Catholic Principals' Council of Ontario (CPCO) and the Ontario Principals’ Council (OPC) are calling on the government to acknowledge that the most important safety measure to keep students safe and schools open is to immediately prioritize the vaccination of principals, vice-principals, teachers, education workers and school staff,” the letter reads.

Blaine MacDougall, one of the signatories, told CTV News Channel that teachers are increasingly worried about the virus variants.

“It's leading to a point now where certain supply teachers are refusing to come into schools because they're so fearful of the variants,” he said.

Niagara Health has decided to prioritize vaccinating teachers and will inoculate 4,000 eligible teachers who work in schools. Vaccinations are set to begin on April 10, and run until April 18 while classes are paused for the delayed spring break.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, who serves on Ontario’s COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force, says that vaccinating essential workers is a priority, but so is getting shots in the arms of people in COVID-19 hotspots.

“One way that you can look at this in a more holistic manner, is to just vaccinate everybody who's eligible in those neighbourhoods, I think that would also be a very smart approach, and actually it might even be a more successful approach as well,” he told CTV News Channel on Wednesday.

He said that reducing or abolishing the age limits in COVID-19 hotspots could get more vaccines in the arms of those who need it most.

While education minister Stephen Lecce and Ontario Premier Doug Ford emphasise the safety of schools, Peel, Guelph and Toronto regions have closed schools early ahead of the spring break.

Beginning on April 7, vaccinations are available for people age 60 and up across the province, 50 and up in most hotspot zones and 55 and up in pharmacies across the province. York Region is offering vaccines to people age 45 and up for people in hotspot areas.

In B.C., Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are prioritizing teachers in various phases ahead of the general population for COVID-19 vaccinations.