A childcare worker’s perspective on UK vaccine rollouts
A couple of days ago I received a call from my supervisor to let me know that a co-worker had tested positive for Covid, a co-worker I had spent a lot of time in close contact with whilst taking care of three-year-old children daily.
As expected, I was told I had to self-isolate for ten days and that I could not go to work as a result, as testing positive for Covid myself was a real possibility. As a nursery worker who spends five days a week in a closed off room with eighteen three-year-olds and a group of adults, without the ability to wear a mask or properly socially distance, the threat and fear are very real for me.
I have come to the point where I accept that I will contract Covid no matter how careful I am, due to where I work and how hard it is to stay safe without sufficient protection. Wearing masks is not as possible as it is expected to be since working with young children means your ability to communicate efficiently is compromised. And when you spend the entire day doing everything from helping them in the toilet and helping them eat, to soothing them during nap time, social distancing goes out the window.
These children, more than other ages, require comfort and care. They require patience and more help when it comes to communicating effectively, and this is just not possible if we are to take the same measures that everyone else does to protect ourselves from this virus. Although we are required to socially distance with our co-workers and wear a mask the minute we exit our rooms, this is not sufficient to safeguard us from a virus that has taken the world by storm and has killed the thousands in its path.
That is why the realisation that we would not be prioritised at all in the vaccination rollout was shocking and disappointing to me and to others within my profession. The icing on the cake was the words of the Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, who said, as reported by the BBC, that “thankfully, teachers are no more likely to catch Covid than any other member of the population who goes to work, and so trying to come up with a scheme which prioritises one professional group over another would have been complicated to put into place…”
Obviously, this man has never worked in the education sector, as his comments that “teachers are no more likely to catch Covid than any other members of the population” is the stupidest thing I have ever heard, and clearly not true. If it were true then in the last year there would not have been headline after headline of teachers and pupils alike contracting Covid, and schools having to shut down as a result. Not even going into detail on the United Kingdom’s slow and shitty response to handling the pandemic in general, the decision to discount professions like teaching, and undermining the risk this disease presents to the people within the education sector is an insult to every single educator in the United Kingdom.
Although the government’s decision to prioritise those above the age of 50 and those working in health care was smart and efficient, their belief that the second rollout of vaccinations should not prioritise professions at all will cost many children their education, and educators the ability to do their job without risking their health during this continued pandemic.
The terrible and hard-to-swallow truth is that Covid is now a part of our lives and will be so for an exceptionally long time. Like viruses and infections that predated it, a Covid vaccination may one day become mandatory to register your child to go to school or to begin working in the education sector.
And although a vaccination will not necessarily decrease the speed of infection, it could help with quality of life, and making sure that people have the immune system necessary to beat the virus and live beyond it. Those of us who work with children are at a constant risk of being exposed and those children at a constant risk of being exposed from us and their peers. The question is not whether the virus gets us at some point, it is a matter of when and whether we will be prepared by that time to fight it off and still live.
Even though it is statistically proven that those who are of an older age are more inclined to die due to a result of being infected, it does not mean that others do not or cannot die from it. It also does not mean that if someone beyond those age ranges were to become infected, that they would necessarily pass it off as a cold and nothing more.
As someone who has witnessed her own family get infected and knows many others who are still dealing with the damage of the virus months later, I am aware of the effect that Covid can have on any human being, regardless of age.
Working in a job such as a nursery or in an educational setting, the risk is always high. At least, if we were offered the vaccine before others, we would have some level of protection from the exceedingly high chance of infection. It also means that in-person teaching could be opened a lot sooner and be safer to all that are involved in the process of educating our children.
Throughout this entire lockdown, me and others in the same profession have continued working to take care of the children of other key workers. Some of us have had to work due to financial issues, and others because we knew that someone had to, to ensure that these kids had a place to thrive and prosper whilst their parents contributed to society and kept the world running. As educators and childcare workers, we are a part of that process. We have been here the entire time and have done our best to provide and care for these children, even though the risk of infection is always in the recesses of our minds.
The least this government can do is acknowledge that realisation and acknowledge that teachers and childcare workers are at risk of infection and spreading the virus more than other professions. We cannot take a day off, and we do not have the same protections provided to other people. These children can spread the virus and be infected just as much as any of us. The sooner childcare workers and those within the education sector are vaccinated, the better it is for the public, regardless of what those in the government may think they know.