Teacher unions now up in arms as their vaccination calls are ignored

Johannesburg – With winter rearing its head and the third Covid-19 breaking out, teacher unions are concerned that more educators will die.

According to the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), 3 500 teachers have lost their lives to the virus.

In February, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced that teachers, considered essential workers, would be vaccinated during phase 2 in April.

But teacher unions are now up in arms as their calls have been ignored.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation also made a call earlier in December and again this month pleading with countries to prioritise vaccines for teachers.

They said this was to curb the spread of Covid-19 and protect teachers and pupils in an effort to ensure the continuation of learning and that schools remain open.

Naptosa chairperson Basil Manuel said in winter it is cold, windows are closed in classrooms because pupils are cold, which will lead to further spreading of the virus.

Manuel also stated that unlike, the first and second wave, more young people were now presenting with Covid-19 symptoms, even primary school pupils.

“The June holidays will give us some reprieve but we are asking for teachers to be vaccinated before the schools reopen in July,” he said.

He mentioned that all five major teacher unions in SA, with the help of professor Mary Metcalfe, have come together to put pressure on the Department of Education and the Department of Health to speed up the process. He said a national survey will again go out to educators on Tuesday to measure their attitude toward the handling of Covid-19 this year.

Manuel said it was imperative that teachers as well as the police force and others who work with large groups of the public be vaccinated.

“We cannot have a situation where schools have to shut down again or education suffers because teachers are too ill,” he said. “The Department of Education told us that they are awaiting the decision and date from the Department of Health and in all fairness, it’s not the fault of the [education] department.”

Sadtu general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said they have regular discussions with the departments of education and health but that to date no vaccination date has been given.

Spokesperson for the Department of Health Popo Maja failed to respond to questions. Some South Africans have jumped the queue to get their first dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine well before they were due, under a system that prioritises first healthcare workers, then people over the age of 60.

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