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SNAs call for priority access to Covid-19 vaccines

A union representative said many risk passing Covid-19 on to vulnerable students.

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HEALTH AUTHORITIES ARE facing calls to vaccinate special needs assistants (SNAs) as a priority group.

The decision to implement an age-based model of vaccine sequencing over one that prioritised groups like teachers and gardaí was met with anger from some representative groups.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Fórsa’s head of education Andy Pike said that many SNAs fear contracting Covid-19 in the community and bringing it into a school setting.

“They work with very vulnerable students who are at risk if they themselves contract Covid-19,” he said.

“The decision means that many thousands of them will now be waiting longer, in some cases many many weeks longer, to receive the vaccine.”

For SNAs more at risk of serious illness from Covid-19, Pike said there is also the concern that they could contract the virus from a student as it is an “exposure-prone” job.

Pike highlighted that many are working alongside healthcare staff, such as physiotherapists and occupational therapists in special schools, who have already been vaccinated as part of the rollout.

The recommendation from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) is based on evidence that age is the biggest factor that determines your risk of severe illness from Covid-19.

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An age-based model rather than one based on profession could also contribute to a quicker rollout.

However, unions representing frontline workers say their members should get priority access due to the high risk of both catching the virus and passing it on to others due to the nature of their work.

While it is expected that other teaching unions will consider industrial action at conferences in the coming week, Pike said Fórsa members will likely focus more on the core concerns that being unvaccinated brings, such as the risk of absences.

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Nicky Ryan

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