Ottawa school board chair asks province to prioritize education workers in vaccine rollout

OTTAWA — The chair of Ottawa’s largest school board wants to see education workers prioritized in the province’s COVID-19 vaccination process.

In a letter to health minister Christine Elliott and education minister Stephen Lecce, released Tuesday, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board chair Lynn Scott said that vaccinating teachers and other education workers would help keep schools open.

“This pandemic has reinforced our collective responsibility to prioritize keeping schools open – for students, for families, and for the economy,” Scott wrote in the letter dated Feb. 16. “At this time of year, school districts are actively planning for the next school year. These plans must be built on our shared understanding that in Ontario we prioritize the safety of students and staff. An important demonstration of that commitment is vaccinating education workers.”

Scott’s letter was written just days after the province announced changes to its vaccination priorities, including health-care workers, first responders, and seniors 80 years of age and older.

Currently, education workers are set to be part of the second phase of the province’s vaccination rollout, which is scheduled to begin in April. Scott wrote that a public commitment to ensuring education workers receive vaccines is important, especially given the spread of variant strains.

“The emergence of more contagious strains of the virus adds more uncertainty to our efforts to keep schools open and prevent further disruptions in our children’s education,” she wrote. “A formal public commitment to vaccinating education workers as part of Phase 2 is not just an important contributor to the strategy for containing COVID-19, but it is also an essential part of the provincial strategy to prioritize the opening of schools.”

On Monday, Elliott said that decisions about vaccine distribution would fall to local health units, within the province’s guidelines.

An update on the vaccination rollout from Ottawa Public Health is expected at city council on Wednesday. On Monday, city sources told CTV News Ottawa that the public health unit is actively planning for the distribution of vaccines to the remainder of the phase one population, including seniors and first responders. Ottawa paramedics have all received their first doses, sources said, and hundreds of firefighters have been given shots in the past few days.

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