Edmonton, Calgary school boards ask for staff to be put on vaccine priority list
Grade one teacher Heidi Dimou arranges the desks in line with physical distancing policy in her class in preparation for the new school year at the Willingdon Elementary School in Montreal, on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
EDMONTON -- Alberta's largest school boards have asked for staff to be among the next groups to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
In a letter to Health Minister Tyler Shandro dated Friday, the chairs of the public and catholic school boards in Edmonton and Calgary wrote "to advocate that all school-based staff, as essential workers, be place in high priority to receive the COVID-19 vaccination."
They listed an inability to work from home, increased risk of exposure through the school community, and financial impacts of a single positive staff case as factors for consideration.
"Staff who work in our schools are a vital part of our public service infrastructure and, as such, merit the protection of early COVID-19 vaccination alongside all other essential workers," the letter obtained by CTV News concludes.
"Vaccinating staff who provide service in schools will, ultimately, keep schools open for in-person learning, help keep students in classrooms without disruptions to their instruction, and enable parents and guardians to focus on their endeavours, while their children are learning safely at school, which ultimately creates a more prosperous Alberta for everyone."
It was signed by the chairs of the boards of trustees of Calgary Board of Education, Calgary Catholic School District, Edmonton Catholic Schools and Edmonton Public Schools.
EPSB board chair Trisha Estabrooks said it was the least she and her counterparts could do to advocate on behalf of their school-based staff.
"I've said from the beginning, our staff are on the frontlines of this pandemic and if we can do anything to help support them in terms of them not getting COVID-19, in terms of them being safe, and health in our schools."
She said the group has not heard back from the minister, however he acknowledged receipt of the letter the next day.
"These groups that are advocating to be in as priority groups in Phase 2 -- we need to give that clarity. And we need to keep our schools open. We need to provide some certainty to the most vulnerable in our province. And for us to do that, we need the federal government to do their job," Shandro said.
According to the province's top doctor on Tuesday, there were 266 active alerts and 12 outbreaks in schools across Alberta, which equates to about 12 per cent. Together, they account for 526 COVID-19 cases.
The president of the Alberta Teachers' Association says prioritizing teachers for vaccines would allow learning to continue uninterrupted and minimize costs for replacement teachers.
"On a day-to-day basis, teachers and other staff will be working with students who will not be vaccinate. So it's a way to protect them, the students and their families as well," Jason Schilling told CTV News Edmonton.
VACCINE PHASE 2 GROUPS TBD: GOVERNMENT
Alberta has not revealed which populations or sectors will be included in the second phase of its vaccine rollout and a government website offers the same messaging used by top officials in recent weeks: "Work to identify sequencing for Phase 2 groups is underway. Decisions will be made in the coming weeks."
In addition, the schedule remains dependent on supply from Moderna and Pfizer to the Canadian government. Recent delays have resulted in shortages and forced Alberta to postpone bookings and reprioritize second doses over first-dose appointments in order to offer full immunization within the manufacturers' recommended window.
Shandro on Wednesday urged Ottawa to be a stronger advocate for Canada, which he says has been more affected by Pfizer's expansion work at its Belgium manufacturing facility than other countries.
"For us to start making it very clear to Albertans what the phases or the subgroups for the priority groups in Phase 2, we would need certainty from the federal government."
As Phase 1A winds up, about 9,800 Albertans have been fully immunized with two doses. This includes ICU and other frontline workers, respiratory therapists, and staff and residents of long-term care and designated supportive homes.
Phase 1B was supposed to offer vaccine to Albertans over the age of 75 and Indigenous people over 65 living in a First Nations community or Métis settlement.
Estabrooks emphasized the letter to Shandro did not ask for school staff to be next, but to be "prioritized" according to the expertise of health officials.
In total, 99,453 doses of vaccine had been administered as of Jan. 24.