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Surrey school staff bumped up on vaccine priority list

Last Updated Mar 24, 2021 at 1:25 am PDT

FILE - Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead, Manitoba Vaccine Implementation Task Force draws a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Winnipeg, Friday, March 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

School staff in Surrey to get vaccinated against COVID-19 sooner than expected

President of the Surrey Teachers Association says details are being worked out, but vaccines could be started this week

Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed Surrey is a priority for vaccine because it's a COVID-19 hot zone

SURREY (NEWS 1130) – Teachers, support staff and administrators across the Surrey school district will be getting immunized against COVID-19 sooner than expected.

Details are still being worked out, but Surrey Teachers Association President Matt Westphal says members have been told they could be receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine as early as this week.

“We’re really happy to see this targeted approach to deal with the higher risks that are being faced in this community, but we still need to have more masks. There are three months left in the school year. We need to throw everything we can at this problem to make sure that they’ll be safe for everyone,” he says.

“That’s not just teachers, that’s also support staff and administrators, which is not the entire workforce. It’s people who qualify as working in schools.”

On Monday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed Surrey is a priority because it’s a pandemic hot zone.

“As you know, we don’t have enough vaccine to do everybody in the school system right now, so we will be prioritizing by where the risk is greatest,” she said, adding Surrey has had the highest case numbers in the province.

Henry has not agreed to make masks mandatory in elementary schools, which is something the teachers union and many parents have been asking for since September.

The province is using AstraZeneca vaccines specifically for high-risk areas and hot spots, while Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are prioritized for B.C.’s age-based vaccine program.

Surrey superintendent Jordan Tinney says work continues to make sure teachers on call and education assistants — who are not currently eligible for the vaccine– don’t have to wait too long for their first dose.

“We’re trying to see what we can accomplish as quickly as possible, so we are still talking about TTOCs and about spare board EA’s that provide direct service to children. They travel across schools and across cohorts, so that’s still part of the ongoing conversation.”

While Tinney says he’s “thrilled” about the vaccines, he says colleagues in Abbotsford and Burnaby, Coquitlam, Vancouver and across B.C. also need to be vaccinated.

“It seems like our work is never over.”

And Tinney admits he’s still getting lots of emails from people demanding masks be made mandatory across the K-to-12 system.

“Our board is still advocating very strongly for masks, but it isn’t easy for boards, right? Because there would be legal implications potentially if a board goes against the provincial direction. Our board is still very much interested in that conversation. They believe we should be exhausting all measures.”

Tinney says work continues to make sure guidelines set at a provincial level are followed.