Thursday, 4 Mar 2021

COVID-19: Boost for teachers’ vaccine hopes but uncertainty over schools reopening

Teachers have a “good shout” to be “very high” on the next priority list for a coronavirus vaccine, the health secretary has told Sky News.

Matt Hancock said discussions are under way about which groups will be prioritised for vaccinations once the elderly and clinically extremely vulnerable have all been inoculated.

So far, more than five million people have had their first dose – with the UK government and devolved administrations aiming to hit 15 million by mid-February.

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Asked about the second phase of the vaccines rollout, Mr Hancock said: “There is a perfectly reasonable debate to be had about who should go in what order next, where teachers have got a good shout to be very high on that list.”

Only vulnerable pupils and children of key workers are currently able to attend school, and the prospect of classrooms reopening again next month appears remote.

In a blow to parents, Mr Hancock said he wasn’t sure even if schools in England will reopen by Easter.

Asked if he could promise they will, he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “We have got to look at the data, we have got to look at the impact of the vaccination programme.

“The education secretary has said that we will ensure schools get two weeks’ notice of return.

“I don’t know whether it will be then or before then. We have got to watch the data.”

It comes as The Sunday Times reported the government is preparing to rule out children returning to the classroom after the February half-term holiday, with the prospect of home schooling continuing for several months.

The paper quoted a government source as saying: “We are in this for the long haul.”

Officials told Sky News it was too early to say when schools would re-open due to the “unpredictable” nature of the pandemic.

However it is understood that pupils are likely to return to the classroom based on the wider strategy in which restrictions are lifted.

More details are expected to be set out in the next two weeks.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We continue to keep plans for the return to school under review and will inform schools, parents and pupils of the plans ahead of February half term.”

They added: “We will continue to work to reopen schools as soon as possible.”

The case for teachers and other professions who may be more at-risk of catching COVID-19 getting vaccinated sooner was also boosted in comments by Prof Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

He said one key piece of information scientists don’t know yet is how much the jabs stop someone passing on coronavirus.

“If studies do show they prevent transmission, it could be a whole new board game in terms of who you vaccinate and in what order,” Prof Harnden explained.

“But at the moment our clear focus is trying to prevent hospitalisations and deaths.”

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