Gavin Williamson has suggested the government is “looking” at prioritising teachers and support staff in the rollout of the newly-approved Covid-19 vaccine in order to minimise widespread disruption in schools.
The education secretary’s comments came after the Joint Community on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) published details of which individuals should be offered the Pfizer/BioNTech jab as a priority.
In the first phase of the mammoth task of rolling out the vaccine, the body listed nine priority groups, with residents in care home and carers at the top of the list, followed by all those over 80-years-old and frontline NHS staff.
Eventually all those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and over the age of 50 will be offered a vaccine and it is claimed the initial prioritisation list “captures almost all preventable deaths from Covid-19”.
Once this phase is complete, the JCVI has suggested those at increased risk of contracting the virus due to their occupation, including first responders, military personnel, teachers and public servants, could be prioritised.
Raising the issue in the Commons, the Conservative MP Elliot Colburn asked Mr Williamson whether education would be at the top of the priority list for vaccinations as the government and NHS prepare for the rollout.
The education secretary replied: “My honourable friend makes it an important point on vaccination, it’s certainly something we’re looking at how we can prioritise that as teachers and support staff play such an important role in our national endeavour."
He added: "We’ve been doing testing pilots around the country as to how we can be in the best possible position if a child has Covid that there isn’t a large group of children who are then in a position of having to self-isolate.
“As we complete those pilots we will look into how we can roll that out, especially into the areas that have been most affected.
He added: “My honourable friend makes it an important point on vaccination, it’s certainly something we’re looking at how we can prioritise that as teachers and support staff play such an important role in our national endeavour.’
Following the approval of the vaccine, the Green Party wrote to Nadhim Zahawi, the minister responsible for vaccine rollout, urging him to prioritise all frontline workers potentially exposed to the virus, including teachers.
In a letter, the party said: “We commend the decision to offer a vaccine to frontline health workers as a priority but would remind you about the many other frontline workers on whom we depend including teachers, public transport workers, shop workers, and those who deliver our goods and collect our rubbish.”
The JCVI's chair for Covid-19 immunisation told a No 10 briefing on Wednesday that the phase one of the vaccination programme would protect those most at risk as well as health and social care workers.
Professor Wei Shen Lim added that from then on the programme would see a banding system, whereby those in the oldest age groups are vaccinated first. "Prioritisation was based on the risk of dying from Covid-19 and, in order to protect the most vulnerable, we have prioritised the most vulnerable individuals first," he said.
"The other element is protection of the NHS and the health and social care system, because by protecting the NHS we also protect lives."