Educators want plan to keep schools open, including ventilation and testing

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Education experts want a national plan for ventilating schools and testing teachers as communities learn to live with the coronavirus, with doctors backing calls for teachers to be vaccinated as a priority.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid said if the country started living with COVID and could not yet immunise children under the age of 12, teachers should be prioritised for vaccinations.

Children under 12 can’t yet be vaccinated, so educators and health experts say teachers should be prioritised for jabs.Credit:Louise Kennerley

“If they are going to be exposed to COVID more than other people in the community, simply because they are exposed to lots of children who haven’t been vaccinated, then yes, teachers should absolutely have access to that as a priority before the schools open,” he said.

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge will join state and territory counterparts for an education ministers meeting on Friday, with “COVID emerging issues” among agenda items.

Children aged 12 and over will be able to book vaccinations from mid-September, but most primary-aged children will not be eligible in the near future, with vaccine trials still under way in the US.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said until a vaccine was approved for those under 12, they would be protected by the “cocooning effect” of those around them getting immunised.

“The more people that we vaccinate and the higher that vaccination rate in the wider community, it decreases the transmission in the community — it protects children,” he said, adding that children generally did not get severe disease from the coronavirus.

Australian Education Union president Correna Haythorpe said the creation of a national plan for schools should be a priority for the ministers meeting.

She said the plan should address the need to prioritise teachers and other education staff “as a matter of urgency”, provide guidance on safe reopening of schools in lockdown areas and prepare schools in other states and territories for outbreaks.

The plan should also “identify and fund the infrastructure needs to allow schools to accommodate for social distancing, hygiene, ventilation and any other public health measures”.

Australian Primary Principals Association president Malcolm Elliott also backed the concept of a national plan.

“Even if we can’t make a super detailed national plan, some agreed principles would be useful so that we’ve got some certainty about what the national strategy is,” Mr Elliott said.

He said a critical shortage of relief teachers across Australia underpinned the need for teachers to be given priority vaccination status. But he said the issue of mandatory jabs for teachers was a matter for government, and was “not something we would call for at this stage.”

“If five or 10 teachers were to be away [with COVID] from every school, then we’d be faced with the prospect of school closures because you can’t replace them. So they need to be vaccinated,” he said.

Dr Khorshid said measures including opening windows or installing HEPA filters could be one measure to reduce the spread of coronavirus in school communities.

“Some of those public health measures may be adequate to protect children given that they have a vastly lower risk of being seriously affected by COVID in the first place,” he said.

NSW is the only state so far to mandate vaccinations for teachers and childcare workers. Under the state’s schools reopening plan, all education staff are required to be vaccinated by November 8, with priority bookings at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena to begin from September 6.

Queensland added teachers and childcare workers to the state’s vaccine priority list in August. Victoria will prioritise Pfizer jabs for year 12 students, and their teachers and examiners at state vaccination hubs in a 10-day blitz from Monday.

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