Young teachers ‘champing at the bit’ to get COVID jabs

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Music teacher Patrick O’Brien was determined to get vaccinated before the school holidays ended but was not sure he would qualify.

The 26-year-old thought he might be too young, but he managed to secure a Pfizer booking for Wednesday due to his duties teaching some students with underlying health conditions.

Music teacher Patrick O’Brien sees “great value” in younger teachers getting the vaccine now.Credit:Joe Armao

“You’d be hard pressed to find a teacher who doesn’t [want a vaccine shot],” said Mr O’Brien, who is in his second year of teaching.

“I see great value in it, especially being around senior teachers and adolescent students. It’s important to do.”

More than half of Australia’s adult population is currently eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination, the Department of Health says, including anyone aged 40 and over, and people aged 16 to 39 who are in a priority group. But as schools prepare for term three next week, and with the loosening of restrictions announced on Wednesday meaning masks are not mandatory in the classroom, there are continued calls for Victoria’s 138,000 school staff to be recognised as front-line workers and fast-tracked for vaccination.

Education unions and principal bodies say this would help protect students and staff, particularly those younger ones who are further back in the vaccination queue, and reduce the risk of further school shutdowns if COVID-19 re-emerges in Victoria.

Tina King, president of the Australian Principals Federation, said students “don’t socially distance and often don’t practice good hygiene, for that matter”.

Independent Schools Victoria said there was a “strong case” for school staff to have vaccine priority because they “perform a front-line task and many feel vulnerable”.

There are large numbers of teachers aged under 40, and a smaller percentage of that age group have been vaccinated than in older groups.

People aged between 25 and 34 are the largest cohort of teaching staff at Victorian government schools, accounting for almost 27 per cent of staff. A further 4.2 per cent of the teaching workforce at government schools are aged under 25.

Just 35 per cent of Victorians aged 16 and over have received a COVID-19 vaccine, compared with 61 per cent of Victorians aged 50 and over, vaccine data released on Tuesday showed. For two doses, the figure for both age groups is just over 10 per cent.

Cameron Peverett, principal of the Colac Specialist School in western Victoria, said teachers aged under 40 were “champing at the bit to get the jab”.

“We are dealing with children and while the risk is relatively low as far as children passing it on to us, we don’t want to accidently pass it on to them,” he said.

While school staff have not yet been prioritised, more are now eligible to receive a vaccine.

In recent weeks, staff at Victoria’s 107 specialist schools and educators of children with a disability qualified.

And school staff aged 18 to 39 are entitled to receive the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccination, which presents an increased – though rare – risk of blood clotting, following a consultation with their GP.

Under current rules, people aged under 60 get the Pfizer vaccine, which has a three-week gap between first and second jabs. Those aged 60 and over receive the AstraZeneca, which has a 12-week gap.

Mr O’Brien said he didn’t care which vaccine he got, although Pfizer was more convenient because it was quicker to get both doses.

“I just wanted to do it, especially with starting school back next week,” he said.

Other school staff have received Pfizer jabs by joining a waiting list, or through hospitals or vaccination centres approaching their school with excess shots.

During Melbourne’s most recent lockdown, some schools were forced to shut down due to COVID-19 infections, most notably North Melbourne Primary School, which experienced scores of cases.

Sydney will conduct remote learning next week as it seeks to bring its COVID-19 outbreak under control.

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