Agreement at Stormont for special school staff vaccines

An agreement has been reached at Stormont that would see special school staff receive coronavirus vaccinations, the News Letter understands.

The move was announced by Education Minister Peter Weir and Health Minister Robin Swann in a joint statement.

Special schools have been asked to remain open for face-to-face learning in Northern Ireland even as other schools have been closed for the current period of lockdown.

While no timetable for the vaccinations has yet been announced, a teaching union official has said it “can’t come soon enough”.

The proposal to prioritise special school staff was put forward by the Education Minister Peter Weir at an Executive meeting on Thursday

The proposal was first put forward by Education Minister Peter Weir at a meeting of the Northern Ireland Executive last week.

In the statement released earlier today, Mr Weir said: “Last week, we announced the introduction of weekly testing of pupils and staff in special schools. Today’s decision is a further and welcome step which I hope will help to ease the anxiety of parents and carers as well as staff working in special schools.

“My officials will work with the Department of Health to identify the group of staff who work in special educational settings and fulfil the necessary criteria and offer them the vaccination.”

The Health Minister, meanwhile, said: “Staff working in special schools are supporting children and young people who have the most complex healthcare needs and require support from across the health and education sectors.

“It is with this in mind that we have made the decision to offer the vaccine to those staff involved in the direct care of these children and young people. While we know that children are not at increased risk these are some of the most vulnerable young people in our society and by vaccinating the special school staff, we are protecting those children who may be at higher risk if exposed to Covid-19.”

Currently, Northern Ireland has moved on to the second phase of its vaccine roll-out after initially prioritising care home residents and staff, healthcare workers and those in the over-80 age category in phase one.

Schools are to remain closed to face-to-face learning for most pupils until at least March 8 under the current lockdown restrictions.

Teaching unions have been calling for staff to be prioritised for vaccinations for some time.

Justin McCamphill, national official for the National Association of Schoolmasters and Women Teachers (NASUWT) in Northern Ireland, said: “NASUWT have been campaigning for teachers, but especially special school teachers, to be prioritised in the vaccine roll-out for several months now.

“Teachers in special schools are working in close confines with many children and other adults during the working day, and are at higher risk.

He added: “This can’t come soon enough.”