INTO President Joe McKeown has raised concerns about pregnant teachers returning to classrooms in the coming weeks where they will be coming into daily contact with large numbers of unvaccinated or partially vaccinated students.
The Cork man said the union is in regular contact with the Department of Education about "supporting" pregnant teachers as the number of positive Covid cases continues to increase nationwide.
“We are in regular dialogue with the Department about the safe reopening of schools in September.
"We have weekly meetings to discuss our concerns. We are very concentrated on trying to support pregnant teachers who will be expected to return to work even those who can’t get vaccinated. We are concerned about that,” he said.
Pregnant women between 14 and 36 weeks have been offered an mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, but some teachers in the earlier stages of pregnancy have expressed concerns about being in classrooms with unvaccinated students.
Mr McKeown said pregnant teachers are "very nervous" about the possible situation facing them when the new academic year resumes. “A pregnant teacher who is under 14 weeks cannot get vaccinated and they are very nervous because the advice is that they are at high risk.
"They are concerned about their babies and themselves naturally enough as they will be working with unvaccinated people. We will continue to engage with the Department to try and secure something for those teachers. It is not by choice they have not been vaccinated.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education told:
“In relation to pregnant education sector employees, in February this year, the Department requested that medical specialists thoroughly assess and recommend guidelines for pregnant employees. At this time, the Department took a precautionary approach and instructed pregnant employees to work from home pending the outcome of this review.
"The guidance was published by the HSE in July 2021 and authored by the Civil Service Chief Medical Officer, Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Public Health Medicine in HSE, and Medmark Occupational Healthcare.
“The HSE guidance for the education sector confirms that pregnant employees can safely attend the workplace in school where all the infection prevention and control measures are in place by implementation of the School Covid-19 Response Plan. This is the case whether or not the pregnant employee has been vaccinated.
"However, all pregnant employees should apply to the Occupational Health Service before the end of their first trimester, so that their individual medical circumstances can be assessed in the context of Covid-19. Those with underlying medical conditions may be categorised as very high risk and be facilitated to work remotely i.e. work from home.”
The spokesperson continued:
“Public Health advises that the rate of transmission of Covid-19 in schools has always been low. The evidence available from the operation of schools during Covid-19 to date shows that schools are low-risk environments, due to the infection prevention and control measures in place," the spokesperson added.