CELA CEO Michele Carnegie has written to The Hon Sarah Mitchell MLC, Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning, calling on the government to include the early education and care workforce in the list of priority COVID-19 vaccinations.
In her letter, Michele highlights the vital role that our workforce, as an essential service, has played since the start of the pandemic in terms of supporting children, families and the economy.
From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, the continual operation of early childhood education and care has been deemed essential, even when schools closed, so that frontline workers with children could still attend work,” writes Ms Carnegie.
Daily interactions with a wide range of families and young children leave our workforce in a position where they are continually at risk of being exposed to COVID. This poses health and operational challenges for staff and families.
Given that hundreds and thousands of families and children depend on early education and care, we need to do all we can to keep centres operating. It is critical to children, families and the economy.
In a recent news release, the Independent Education Union of Australia (NSW/ACT branch) shared that since the COVID-19 crisis began, more than 50 schools in NSW have had to close owing to confirmed cases, and nearly 20 early childhood centres have been disrupted.
What does the government’s vaccine rollout look like?
On 7 January 2021, the Australian Government announced Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine national roll-out strategy. The strategy lists 3 phases of vaccine roll out as well as proposed distribution and delivery hubs.
Included in Phase 1a are quarantine and border workers, frontline health care workers, aged care and disability care staff and residents.
Phase 1b includes elderly adults aged 70+, other health care workers, people from an ATSIC background aged 55+, younger adults with underlying conditions or disability and critical and high-risk workers including defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing.
While the early education and care sector has continuously been in the spotlight of the government’s approach to the pandemic and support for families, our sector is not mentioned specifically within any of the rollout phases and will likely fall under phase 2a or 2b.
What else do we know about the vaccine program?
The government has said that the ‘The COVID-19 vaccine will be voluntary, universal and free.’
As of 29 January 2021, the government states that it is ‘currently consulting with the states and territories, and medical experts on how a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine will be distributed.’
Read more about Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine and treatment strategy.
How are vaccines being prioritised overseas?
The UK appears to have prioritised vaccination mainly on an age basis. The only mention of workforce sectors in the top priority lists are staff working in care homes for older adults and frontline health and social care workers (ref: gov.uk).
The US has placed more emphasis on the workforce in their lists. Phase 1a lists healthcare personnel, while 1b includes firefighters, police officers, corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, United States Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, and those who work in the educational sector (teachers, support staff, and daycare workers in its list (source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
UNESCO has recommended prioritising teaching staff for vaccination given the significant need to focus on children’s wellbeing in 2021 after extensive periods of lockdown.
We share this concern and urge the government to add the early childhood education and care workforce to the priority vaccination list.
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