THE Minister for Education Norma Foley has defended the Government’s recent decision to change the vaccine roll-out schedule from an occupation-based one to one led by age, stating they have been ‘guided by public health and medical experts’.
Minister Foley made the comments in her address at the INTO Congress 2021. The vaccination reversal has generated a huge outpouring of anger amongst the three teacher unions who have agreed to a joint motion to go before delegates at their respective congresses committing the groups to work together to demand Covid-19 vaccine prioritisation for teachers.
The Education Minister said she sympathised with their position, but she defended the decision the Government made last week.
“The new vaccination rollout schedule was recommended to government by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee and endorsed by the NPHET. This new schedule has disappointed many in the education sector and I understand that sense of disappointment,” she said.
Ms Foley said the Government has been guided by science in making its decision.
“We in the education sector have been guided by public health and medical experts. Dr Ronan Glynn, Acting Chief Medical Officer, and Dr Kevin Kelleher of the HSE presented the medical evidence underpinning the recent changes to the vaccine programme. Their recommendation has been driven by the fact that national and international evidence now confirms that age is the “strongest predictor” of whether a person who contracts Covid-19 will be admitted to hospital or ICU or die as a result of their infection.
“Professor Karina Butler of NIAC confirmed that if we compare a person aged between 30 and 34 with a person aged between 60 and 64, the person aged between 60 and 64 years old is 70 times more likely to die as a result of Covid-19 than the younger person is. This is the latest medical and scientific evidence available.
“This is not a value judgement on any given profession. This is simply the science,” Minister Foley added.
Minister Foley’s defence of the changes to the vaccine rollout attracted much anger from the presidents of the INTO and ASTI respectively who criticised her stance.
Outgoing INTO President Mary Magner has appealed to the Minister for Education to reverse the changes announced to the Covid-19 vaccine.
I implore the Minister to announce a u-turn.”
Outgoing ASTI President Ann Piggott said her members were ‘thrust into oblivion instantly and unexpectedly’ when the announcement was made.
“Despite the objective of keeping schools open, no vaccination of essential school workers is deemed important. We as a union feel anger at the abandonment. Other countries have prioritised the need to keep schools open and they have protected essential staff,” she added.
Ms Piggott said the vaccination changes will put her members at ‘immediate risk’.
Ms Piggott said they want to see a ‘parallel system of protecting frontline workers’ as the solution.
“We need to move from a two-tier parallel system of classroom measures to this parallel safety control for teachers, SNAs and others. The poor decision to exclude teachers must be rescinded,” she said.