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'Vaccine lottery for SNAs': Union says jabs given to all staff in some schools while others overlooked

The union is calling for SNAs to be designated as frontline healthcare workers and prioritised for vaccines.

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TRADE UNION FÓRSA has said there is a ‘vaccine lottery’ in special schools with some staff having already received vaccines while others are told they will have to wait until it is their turn in the age-based rollout.

Andy Pike, head of Fórsa’s education division, said HSE experts at a local level have included some special needs assistants and special education teachers in the vaccine rollout for frontline healthcare workers.

“There is a vaccine lottery at the moment in our special schools and it’s experienced on two levels,” he said at the union’s annual conference today.

“Firstly, in most special schools the occupational therapists and the physiotherapists who are also represented by Fórsa have received the vaccine as they are classed as healthcare staff, while the SNAs carrying out intimate care of the same students cannot access the vaccine

“We in Fórsa have to explain how members of the same union, working in the same school, have different vaccine status  depending on their job.”

He said the government had said vaccination will be rollout regardless of occupation but “that’s just not happening” in special schools.

Pike said in some special schools, all staff have been called for vaccination by the HSE, while staff in other schools in different areas have not.

“That’s unfair, it’s illogical and inequitable,” he said.

He said the government should have included SNAs in Cohort 2, designating them as frontline healthcare workers from the start of the programme.

Pike said the HSE knows the degree of risk SNAs are exposed to.

“We accept that age is the biggest risk factor if you contract Covid-19 – we don’t argue with that evidence. But the effect of the new policy is that our 60-year-old members will have to wait much longer for the vaccine,” he said.

Our members who are in their 50s will have to wait much longer for the vaccine. Those who are in younger age groups will be exposed to the risk of bringing Covid into their school, or possibly taking it home for a longer period of time.

Addressing the Fórsa conference today, Minister for Education Norma Foley acknowledged that the move to an age-based rollout of vaccinations had disappointed many in the education sector.

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She said NIAC, in making its initial recommendations on sequencing in December, committed to keeping priority groups under review, considering new evidence, epidemiology and vaccine supplies.

“New national and international evidence confirms that age is the single ‘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. As a result, NIAC has now recommended the vaccine programme move to an age-based rollout,” she said.

The minister said this decision is not “related to how we value any particular profession”.

“It is about the latest scientific evidence and how we can reduce the levels of serious illness or death from this virus,” she said.

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