OTTAWA -- Early childhood educators are essential workers who are often faced with potentially large classrooms of unmasked children, where physical distancing is nearly impossible. Yet many remain unable to receive a vaccine.

Delara Zamani is a resident physician with the Ottawa Hospital, her husband Hadi Toeg is a cardiac surgeon with The Heart Institute.

The pair has two children, ages three and four.

Throughout the pandemic the family has relied on their childcare centre. They feel the employees who work at childcare settings should have vaccine priority.

Zamani has started a petition.  

“Daycare providers have been forgotten,” says Zamani.

“They show up every day and not only put their lives at risk, their family members lives at risk as well, so we really need to as a community advocate for these daycare providers.”

Toeg agrees and says now, during this third wave and with more covid-19 variants of concern, ECE’s need to be vaccinated in order to keep them safe.

“They really are our frontline,” says Toeg. “It’s not like kindergarten or grade one or two or high school people can wear masks four-year-olds, three-year-olds, two-year-olds, one-year-olds, they can’t wear masks and so if they are harbouring the virus there is only a one-way protection with the mask.”

Classes which can have more than twenty un-masked children who need help to eat, get dressed and play outside.

Kristine Read, preschool program supervisor with the Kanata Academy says many early educators are under 40 and not yet eligible for a vaccine. While there have been no outbreaks at the preschool, if there is, backfilling could be a challenge.

“We have to call on anybody who wants to come and work and we have high standards here you have to have your credentials,” says Read. “Plus who wants to come in when there is a potentially sick case.”

Read also says there is the constant worry to bring the virus home to their family or bring it to the daycare.

The Association of Early Childhood Educators for Ontario, which represent about 2, 000 educators, has been lobbying the Ontario government to add ECE’s to the list of priority groups. It has ramped up effort since some teachers in hot-zones and special-educators were given the chance at a shot.

“It’s past time that their calls are listened to,” says Alana Powell, the association’s executive coordinator. “Their work is essential for economies and communities they know it’s essential for supporting children and families.”

Powell says in a March survey, 43 per cent of their members said they considered leaving their job because of stress and a decrease in job satisfaction.

There are more than 57, 000 early childhood educators across Ontario.

Zamani says everyone is interconnected and her family is a good example. If any of their children need to isolate from exposure at daycare, so do two healthcare workers that help save lives.