Nurseries call for early years staff to be vaccinated
Wednesday, January 6, 2021
Nursery groups are calling on the Government to commit to prioritising childcare workers for vaccination against Covid-19.
In an open letter to hospitals and local MPs, Tops Day Nurseries, which has 29 settings across Dorset, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Somerset and Devon, including six based on hospital sites, said that while they currently remain open to all children, they are having to close ‘room after room’ as staff test positive, often with no symptoms.
In a desperate attempt to stay open and provide the same level of care for children as they have done since March, the letter pleads for help.
It states, ‘Could you prioritise our day nursery staff for inoculations along with NHS staff? As we are on-site, we could also potentially send a couple of colleagues over at the end of the day to prevent any wastage if that is an option? Please just email or telephone the nursery to let us know.’
The nursery group, along with the rest of the early years sector, has no access to testing or inoculations other than the access that the general public have, yet they argue that staff are in close contact with children, through changing nappies and feeding.
The letter states, ‘Schools, colleges, universities have already been sent free boxes of tests – why haven’t day nurseries? Why do we keep being overlooked? We have purchased additional thermometers, cleaning materials and a fogging machine, and risk assessments are in place, but we are experiencing a sharp increase in cases, and the government wants us to stay open. Please can you help?
‘We may have to close completely, imminently, due to lack of staff who are fit or allowed to work, which will of course be a major childcare headache for your staff and could prevent them working too.’
June O’Sullivan, CEO of London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), reiterated the concerns.
She said, ‘Now that nurseries can stay open during the new lockdown, the Government must vaccinate all nursery and childcare workers as part of the 13.2 million ‘priority' people – along with immediate access to free testing, currently available to other essential workers.
‘So far, ministers have failed to give any valid explanation as to why the early years is not being prioritised after society's most vulnerable groups and NHS workers have been given the jab.’
Ms O’Sullivan, who runs 39 nurseries across London, warns that thousands of nursery places could be in jeopardy by the Spring if the sector is not vaccinated.
She said, ‘Funding from local authorities for the most vulnerable children could be under threat if nurseries are forced to close because staff are off sick with the virus or needing to self-isolate; or if parents are too nervous to bring their children to nursery. We saw this during the first lockdown when some of the children living in our most deprived communities kept children indoors for weeks and needed to be coaxed into bringing their children back to nursery. This is deeply concerning as thousands of nursery places will be in jeopardy by the Spring – and thousands of valuable early years learning lost.’
She added, ‘Nurseries are the lifeline in keeping people in work and the economy afloat which is why this essential service must be fully supported by the Government.’
Sarah Mackenzie, chief academic officer at London-based nursery group N Family Club, also wants to see early years staff given priority for vaccines.
'We’ve had assurances from the DfE that our settings are low risk and children in our age range are less susceptible to contracting Covid and are not driving transmission,' she said.
'That said, we firmly believe that Early Years Educators should be added to the priority vaccination list as whilst nurseries have been deemed low risk, our teams are in a unique position of being front line workers who are unable to socially distance from the children. The Government must recognise the vital role they are playing in the pandemic and include them along with health and social care workers.'
The Department for Education said, 'Under the priority groups for the first phase of vaccine rollout, those over 50 years of age, and all those 16 years of age and over in a risk group, would be eligible for vaccination within the first phase of the programme.
'The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has asked the Department of Health and Social Care to consider occupational vaccination in the next phase of vaccine rollout, in collaboration with other Government departments. The Department for Education will input into this.
'We are looking at how testing can best support the Early Years sector and we are working with local authorities and the sector to inform plans for testing in early years settings.'
Meanwhile, a petition has been launched to prioritise teachers, school and childcare staff for Covid-19 vaccination, which has surpassed 300,000 signatures.