Letter: Every teacher who is medically able should be immunised against COVID-19

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Dear Editor,

The coronavirus outbreak has caused major disruptions to daily life, and children are feeling these changes deeply. While they return to school, it will be not only welcome, but exciting for many students, others will be feeling anxious or frightened.

Starting school or starting a new school year can be stressful at the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic. Children may feel nervous or reluctant to return to school, especially if they have been learning at home for months.

Be honest – for example, you could go through some of the changes they may expect at school, such as needing to wear forms of personal protective equipment.

Children may also find it difficult being physically distanced from friends and teachers while at school. We could encourage them to think about other ways to bond and stay connected.
Reassure children about safety measures in place to help keep students and teachers healthy, and remind children that they can also help prevent germs from spreading by washing their hands with soap and coughing or sneezing into their elbows.

Remind children about the positives – that they will be able to see their friends and teachers (if they are physically returning to the classroom) and continue learning new things.

However, every teacher who is medically able should be immunised against COVID-19, and the Government should implement mandates to ensure that they are. Today, immunisation requirements are the rule, not the exception, for our children.

Some educators are arguing that mandatory vaccination is a violation of freedom and bodily integrity. However, as anyone who had a good civics or constitutional law, teacher could tell you, even our most vital rights have limits.

With so much uncertainty, we have no choice but to rely on one part of the pandemic that is certain: the vaccines provide protection against the virus. For us and our children, COVID-19 vaccinations are the least our Government can do to continue the care work to which we’ve committed our lives. Inoculation alone isn’t a guarantee that our children and families would have the safe public education that they deserve, but, without question, we owe it to them and to one another to try.

The most compelling case for a vaccine requirement for educators is a moral one: What do we owe our children and students? Like it or not, the work of a teacher is inextricable from caretaking. They are responsible for other people’s children for most of their working hours every day, and they do many things in service of that obligation, which include mandated reporting of suspected child abuse, and even everyday tasks as simple as taking attendance help teachers ensure that students are safe. These are among other reasons why families trust teachers with their children. Widespread vaccination would protect students, particularly those who are too young to be vaccinated, with little risk of serious harm to anyone involved. How, in good conscience, can teachers refuse this opportunity?
It’s human nature to protect our children above all else, and the best way to protect them is to get everyone who is eligible vaccinated, and surround children who are not yet vaccine-eligible with people who are vaccinated to effectively shield them from COVID harm.

I’m a parent; parents’ rights are very important. However, I do believe that they’re not without some reasonable limitation, depending upon safety, reasonableness, and complying with our Government’s health need.

Getting vaccinated is a key step in preventing COVID-19 infection and decreasing transmission. Continuing mitigation measures are also likely to keep any COVID-19 surges at bay, especially as our country struggles to cope with the devastation caused by COVID-19.

The single most important step a parent can take is to have everyone that’s eligible in the family vaccinated. That’s exactly what I have already done in my family. I have only my 14-year-old son left to be vaccinated, and I strongly support vaccination.

Right now, only people aged 12 and up can get vaccinated. This means there are hundreds of thousands of kids who are not old enough to get the shots. We can really lower these children’s risk if we surround these children with vaccinated people. Of course, there will still be risks at school, but the Ministry of Health has layers of protection in place that would help.

Additionally, parents, we should not overlook minor symptoms that we might have pre-COVID. So, if our child has a cough or runny nose, don’t assume it’s just a minor cold. Keep that child home, and speak to your pediatrician to rule out COVID. This perception that kids don’t have to worry about the virus is wrong. In fact, COVID-19 is deadly – hundreds of kids have died – and vaccination is the key to fighting the virus. It protects against serious illnesses and death. I know we’re still months away from vaccinations for children aged 5 to 11, but I strongly encourage anyone that is aged 12 and over to get vaccinated as soon as you can.

Personally, we have mixed feelings about returning to school. We know the joy of a busy classroom, and we know that many will benefit from the structure and socialisation that come with learning in a shared space with their peers. At the same time, as cases rise, we sympathise with students and teachers who have experienced devastating losses in the past 20 months, and feel anxious about returning. We have to implement commonsense safety measures, like mask and vaccine mandates, and clear and consistent protocols for dealing with COVID-19 cases in schools to help us ensure that students’ and families’ fears are abated.

As adults, we have to work together and be the examples for our children, who are malleable and impressionable.

We can all agree that our Government has one essential function: to protect us from physical harm. Many students are too young to receive a vaccine. For the Government to protect our children’s right to a public education, we are required to, at times, subjugate our liberty interests to the more important interests of our society.

Sincerely,
David Adams