Ottawa school board chair asks province to prioritize education workers in vaccine rollout
OTTAWA -- The chair of Ottawa's largest school board wants to see education workers prioritized in the province's COVID-19 vaccination process.
In a letter to health minister Christine Elliott and education minister Stephen Lecce, released Tuesday, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board chair Lynn Scott said that vaccinating teachers and other education workers would help keep schools open.
"This pandemic has reinforced our collective responsibility to prioritize keeping schools open – for students, for families, and for the economy," Scott wrote in the letter dated Feb. 16. "At this time of year, school districts are actively planning for the next school year. These plans must be built on our shared understanding that in Ontario we prioritize the safety of students and staff. An important demonstration of that commitment is vaccinating education workers."
Scott's letter was written just days after the province announced changes to its vaccination priorities, including health-care workers, first responders, and seniors 80 years of age and older.
Currently, education workers are set to be part of the second phase of the province's vaccination rollout, which is scheduled to begin in April. Scott wrote that a public commitment to ensuring education workers receive vaccines is important, especially given the spread of variant strains.
"The emergence of more contagious strains of the virus adds more uncertainty to our efforts to keep schools open and prevent further disruptions in our children's education," she wrote. "A formal public commitment to vaccinating education workers as part of Phase 2 is not just an important contributor to the strategy for containing COVID-19, but it is also an essential part of the provincial strategy to prioritize the opening of schools."
Speaking on the CTV News at Noon, Scott said she had not received a response from the province.
"We haven't had a response yet and I would add we are not the only district that has sent letters," she said.
Scott said ensuring all education workers are vaccinated will improve not only their health, but their job performance as well.
"Let's face it. When people are easier in their minds about whether or not they have the possibility of being infected with COVID, they'll do a better job of teaching and working with our kids," she said. "The uncertainty is what gets to people. Even if you know it's going to be later rather than sooner, at least you know and you have an approximate time to think about."
Lecce said in a statement to CTV News Ottawa that education workers will be part of the next phase of the province's vaccination plan.
"Groups eligible to receive vaccines as part of the next phase of our COVID-19 immunization plan include essential workers who play a critical role in our society – workers like our teachers – who every day work to support our children at this critical time," Lecce said. "I continue to advocate the importance of all school, child care and education staff being vaccinated, including in discussions with Gen. Hillier (Chair of the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force) and Dr. Huyer (Coordinator of Provincial Outbreak Response) and other members of government on the importance of prioritizing essential workers."
He added that getting vaccines into more Canadians’ arms provides "a light at the end of the tunnel that we will get through this difficulty."
On Monday, Elliott said that decisions about vaccine distribution would fall to local health units, within the province's guidelines.
An update on the vaccination rollout from Ottawa Public Health is expected at city council on Wednesday. On Monday, city sources told CTV News Ottawa that the public health unit is actively planning for the distribution of vaccines to the remainder of the phase one population, including seniors and first responders. Ottawa paramedics have all received their first doses, sources said, and hundreds of firefighters have been given shots in the past few days.