Seas Suas, the representative organisation for independent early education and childcare providers, has called for early years professionals to be classified as ‘key workers’ in the Government’s vaccine rollout programme.
The group, which is chaired by Athlone native and Managing Director of Grovelands Childcare, Ms Regina Bushell, said that as essential and frontline workers, attending their place of work every day, in roles where social distancing is not an option, they should be ranked higher in the list for vaccination to protect them, children and working parents.
Childcare workers are currently eleventh in the Government’s fifteen phase rollout plan. Reclassifying childcare workers as key workers would place them in the sixth phase of the rollout, those “providing services essential to the vaccination programme”.
In an open letter to the Taoiseach, Nphet, NIAC, the Minister for Health and the Minister for Children published today, Seas Suas argues that the early learning and childcare sector is essential to the normal functioning of society and the economy and is particularly important in caring for the children of essential workers and healthcare professionals, who are desperately needed in hospitals during a critical phase of the pandemic response. The letter also cited the need to protect childcare professionals who are essential, frontline workers.
“Last March, when early learning and childcare services were closed, parents, many of them frontline workers, quickly came to appreciate the difficulties of functioning as full-time carers and teachers while simultaneously carrying out their professional duties.
“It quickly became clear that it would be impossible to revitalise the economy, or even have a fully functioning health service, in a lockdown where childcare and education were closed. This problem is now apparent again, and we must work to ensure it is solved as quickly as possible,” Ms Bushell remarked.
Seas Suas has provided five major justifications for its reclassification proposal
•It will ensure the safe and sustainable return of all children to education and care by vaccinating childcare professionals.
•It will ensure that essential and frontline workers, and ultimately all workers, can fully return to productive work.
•It will ensure that education and care can continue to be provided without interruption, as there will be fewer staff absences associated with Covid-19 sickness and self-isolation.
•It will speed up the country’s economic and social recovery.
•It will protect children from any risk of infection. (While transmission rates from children in education settings are low, there was an increase in Covid-19 cases in childcare settings during the most recent surge. )
The approval and introduction of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and the ramping up of the rollout as vaccine supply increases generally, which is expected from April, provides the necessary resources to carry out Seas Suas’s proposal.
Seas Suas says that this approach would also be in line with other countries, including the United States, Germany, and Italy. There, teachers and childcare workers are deemed key workers and have been prioritised for vaccination in the third group of their rollout programmes. Former prime minister Tony Blair called for a similar strategy in the UK.
“We believe that our proposal can help to ensure that Irish children receive consistent, sustainable, and safe education and care through vaccinating childcare professionals, while allowing parents to work to full productivity - without adequate childcare, the workforce is stretched and cannot work in carrying out key roles to keep some parts of the economy going while in lockdown.
“To that end, we are asking that the Government reconsiders its current vaccination programme, when there is scope to do, so in the best interest of children, parents, and early learning and childcare workers,” Ms Bushell concluded.