Union calls for delayed return to class, priority booster shots for B.C. teachers

Click to play video: 'What Omicron means for students returning to school after winter break'
What Omicron means for students returning to school after winter break
There are renewed concerns about in-person learning as students prepare to return to class following the winter break. Surrey teacher Lizanne Foster discusses those concerns, and why B.C. teachers are asking to be prioritized for booster shots. – Dec 29, 2021

The union representing roughly 46,000 teachers in B.C. is calling on the province to delay the return to classrooms and give priority access to booster shots to all school staff.

British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) president Teri Mooring said she has asked the government to move classes online until at least Jan. 10 in order to assess the impact of the Omicron variant on staff and students.

“Omicron is running rampant in communities and it makes sense that is going to happen in schools as well,” she said in an interview Tuesday.

“We do think we need to take the first little bit to see how many teachers are impacted.”

Read more: British Columbia planning ‘enhanced safety measures’ for in-person return to K to 12

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It is still unclear in B.C. and across the globe what impact the highly-transmissible variant of COVID-19 will have on classrooms that are resuming in-person learning after the holidays.

In a Monday statement, the Ministry of Education said it is planning to continue in-person learning in the new year with enhanced safety measures.

The provincial K-12 Steering Committee met last week and on Monday, and is scheduled to meet again Wednesday with the goal of finalizing those enhanced protocols.

Click to play video: 'Education minister says all options on the table'
Education minister says all options on the table

The Ministry of Health has not indicated teachers will be prioritized for boosters.

“Many school staff were prioritized early for their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and would have then received the invite for their second dose early,” reads an emailed statement from the department on Monday.

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“As a result, the same school staff will receive their booster dose invitations earlier, based on the NACI recommended interval of at least six months between 2nd dose and booster shot.”

Read more: COVID-19: N.S. extends school break until Jan. 10 as cases remain high

Unless teachers added to the province’s list of booster shot priority groups, however, they could be waiting eight months between their second and third shot.

Right now, the only people eligible for a booster six months after their second shot are those 63 years of age or older, along with Indigenous adults, residents of independent living or long-term care facilities, and health-care workers.

People who are categorized as clinically extremely vulnerable and people who initially got two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are also eligible, and those 61 years of age and older can book appointments.

Mooring said a lack of booster shots among teachers could lead to a rise in cases and symptoms that could keep more school staff at home. That means some schools may not be able to operate due to staffing shortages, she warned.

The B.C. government has scheduled a COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday.

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