Quebec teachers hope to be prioritized in vaccination plan; province hasn't responded
MONTREAL -- Despite pleas from teaching unions, the Quebec government appears to have no intention of prioritizing teachers in its vaccination plan.
At a news conference on Friday, Quebec's public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, avoided questions about where teachers fit into the government plan, focusing instead on who will be prioritized.
"We are protecting the ones who are going to die or who are hospitalized with (COVID-19)," he said.
In mid-November, FSE-CSQ and APEQ-QPAT presidents sent a joint letter to Arruda and Health Minister Christian Dube requesting that teachers be deemed "essential workers" in the vaccination plan.
That would mean they'd be next in line after long-term care home residents and health-care workers.
But they never received an official response -- and Arruda explained why on Friday.
"We cannot even answer the question... because we don’t know how many vaccines we’re going to have in January, February, March, April," he said. "But we will keep the same principle, protect the ones who are high risk and the ones who are working in essential services."
The teachers' unions' letter brings up concerns about poor ventilation in schools and the fact that the government has done little to fix that problem, in addition to pointing out that teachers are regularly exposed to several groups of people -- multiple classes of kids -- with each student also bringing in a wider circle of exposure from his or her family.
“The World Health Organization recognized that this virus was being transmitted via aerosols way back in July and the government basically ignored that and went ahead with business as usual," said Robert Green, a history teacher at Westmount High.
Westmount High has only had three to four cases of COVID-19 since the start of the school year, Green said, because the school has a functional ventilation system -- but others aren't as fortunate.
Teachers aren't hoping to get top priority, but they do think their health must be considered apart from the general population, he said.
"I don’t think any of my colleagues would want us to be at the very front of the line -- that really has to be for the health-care workers and those taking care of our seniors," he said. "We should be perhaps second in line for a vaccine."
The latest government data surrounding COVID-19 cases in schools shows that 15,656 students and 3,623 teachers have tested positive for the disease since the start of the pandemic across 2,341 schools.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Christopher Labos said it's hard to detect "whether schools have been a driver of the pandemic or a consequence of the pandemic" -- but the sheer number of cases coming out of them are reason enough to consider vaccinating teachers as a priority.
“It’s not a completely unreasonable suggestion,” he said. "There are certainly high-risk groups in our population that need to be addressed, and teachers are probably one of them, they are a group that comes into contact with a lot of people on a daily basis."
Arruda said the roll-out of the plan depends largely on how many doses of vaccine Quebec ultimately receives and when they arrive.
"The first three months will be the most challenging thing," he said.
If they aren't prioritized for the vaccine, teachers hope the government will be more proactive about ventilation issues in schools moving forward.
“We have been working so hard to do the best that we can for our students in the midst of this pandemic and we would like to see a little bit of respect shown back to us by the government," Green said.
"That means considering us when it comes to vaccines and it also means making the investments necessary to ensure that our classrooms are safe."