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Why vaccinating educators makes sense

| Political action, Public education

Why vaccinating educators makes sense – For students, families, and the economy

This January, we passed the one-year mark of COVID-19 first being detected in Canada. Since then, more than 800,000 people have been infected, over 21,000 people have lost their lives, and every Canadian has been impacted in some way. Among the most disruptive changes for Canadian families has been the closure of our schools, and the demands of remote learning and teaching.

Canadian parents – particularly mothers – have had to adjust quickly, juggling work from home, childcare, and part time schoolwork and tech support. Parents are burnt out, teachers and education workers are burnt out, and students are suffering for the second school year in a row. But while students are now (mostly) back in classrooms, a potential third wave of more dangerous variants risks sending everyone back to remote learning. 

In addition to the impact it has on families, remote learning disadvantages those who don’t have access to reliable internet, or adequate technology at home. Many vulnerable children also rely on schools for meals and a support network of adults they trust. And remote learning strips away vital face-to-face interaction between students at a formative time in their development.

With students back in school, we must do everything we can to keep them there. That starts with making classrooms as safe as possible with pan-Canadian safety standards on mask use, physical distancing, and classroom ventilation. And perhaps most important, Canadian educators must be added to the vaccination priority list in all provinces and territories. It’s a matter of safety – for teachers, yes, but just as importantly, for children, for their parents, and for our communities.

I’ve long believed that educators are front line workers without front line worker protection.  Canada’s healthcare workers and most vulnerable populations must absolutely be the first in line for vaccines. But given the level of exposure teachers have, and the network of touchpoints they have in our communities, we need to make sure they’re next on the priority list.

An epidemiologist from Université de Montreal, Dr. Nimâ Machouf, shares this belief. “In order to stop the spread of COVID-19, we must ensure that those who have high exposures are vaccinated sooner than later – that includes teachers in classrooms across Canada,” said Dr. Machouf.

Teachers have an extremely high number of exposures every single day. The average classroom was not designed to ensure 20 let alone 35 children can keep 2 metres apart at all times. The result is that we have too many people in classrooms, too close together, for too long often with poor ventilation and, in some cases, without mandatory masks. And, while paramount, safety isn’t the only factor to consider here – a return to normalcy in education means that Canadian workers with children can get back to work at full capacity and, ultimately, help power Canada’s post-pandemic economic recovery.  

At a time when the Biden administration is clearly stating that teachers must be prioritized for vaccination, Canada’s federal government has been comparatively silent, failing to publicly acknowledge the importance of vaccinating our educators. Some provinces have offered vague commitments, but no concrete path forward. Vaccination plans, like school reopening plans, are being created by governments behind closed doors without talking to the people directly affected.

We now have faster-spreading COVID variants in all ten provinces. Newfoundland and Labrador’s case count has exploded, driven primarily by the presence of the UK variant. Let’s not be caught flat footed like last time. If a third wave comes, we need to be ready.

We just got the majority of Canada’s students back in classrooms – let’s make sure we can keep them there. As governments plan for the coming months, we must ensure that teachers, education workers, and educators have priority access to the COVID-19 vaccines so that our children can learn in class, parents can work, our economy can begin to recover, and teachers can do what they were trained to do: engage and educate Canada’s next generation.

Shelley L. Morse is the president of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

About the Canadian Teachers’ Federation

  • Founded in 1920, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation is the national voice for the teaching profession. 
  • As the national alliance of provincial and territorial teacher organizations, the CTF/FCE represents over 300,000 elementary and secondary school teachers across Canada. 

To arrange an interview or for more information please contact: 

Julie Savard-Shaw,
Canadian Teachers’ Federation
Mobile: 613-408-4658