A leading teachers union has called on all education staff to be prioritised for the coronavirus vaccination to help get children back into the classroom as quickly and safely as possible.
The NASUWT said it was “in the national interest” for teachers to be at the head of the queue to receive the vaccination.
Schools have entered another period of remote learning, with most pupils to receive home schooling until the half term break in February.
The Union said it is essential both to help protect teachers and their pupils but to allow the country to move to a situation where children are back in schools and colleges, minimising the disruption to their education.
The NASUWT has presented evidence showing that staff working in both secondary and primary schools are far more likely to be infected than the wider community, with rates of virus prevalence amongst school staff between three and four times higher than the prevalence rate for adults.
NASUWT General Secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “Teachers and education staff are unable to practice social distancing from their pupils and few are provided with essential PPE as part of their day-to-day roles.
“With provision for younger age children and for children with special and additional learning needs, it is clear that there are additional risks present which are comparable to those that exist in the provision of health and social care.”
He said that while it is right that health and social care staff are prioritised, teachers must also be identified as a priority group for the vaccine.
“Through the autumn term, we have seen a bad situation getting worse by the day,” said Dr Roach.
“Now, at the start of 2021, the position is as bad if not worse than it was in March.
“The impact on this generation of children and young people should not be underestimated and, it is our view, that everything that can be done should be done to ensure the safe and sustainable resumption of school and college-based education for all pupils as quickly as possible.
“We have seen too much disruption to childrens' education. Whilst teachers are doing everything that is being asked of them, they also deserve the same levels of protection in the face of this highly deadly and highly contagious virus.”
Education Minister Peter Weir has already said he would support the call for teachers to receive vaccinations as quickly as possible.
The minister said he would support any measures that would allow teachers and school staff to receive Covid vaccinations early.
“It would be helpful if that was made a priority, but the decision on who is vaccinated and when is made centrally between the four nations, it’s not a call I or Health Minister Robin Swann can make,” he said.
“I would be in favour of anything that lessens the anxiety staff in schools are feeling.
“I am hopeful that the logistics on the ground will be speeded up to allow the vaccination process to be turbo-charged. Anything that makes those working in education feel safer and more confident would be welcomed.
“Education staff are all key workers and there is no intention to alter that.”
NASUWT National Official Northern Ireland, Justin McCamphill said staff who are still working face to face with pupils need to be protected, particularly those working in special schools.
“It is in the interest of wider public health that all teachers and education staff are prioritised in the roll-out of the Coronavirus vaccines,” he said.
“It is particularly important for staff in special schools and all those working face-to-face with children and young people right now.
“Getting schools open again as soon as possible, without further disruption, means not only that lessons need to be learned, but also that credible and sustainable solutions are implemented.
“This means that tougher control measures will be needed to ensure workplace safety, together with priority roll out of the Coronavirus vaccines to all frontline education staff in order to minimise further disruption to children’s education.”