Teacher unions want their members to be the next in line to be vaccinated against Covid-19 and have even written to the ministers of basic education and health to present their case on why teachers must be next in line for vaccination.
Inside Education spoke to at least two leaders of the five teacher unions, who are represented in the Education Labour Relations Council, who confirmed that they wrote a letter to the ministers in the past week “asking for their support in this matter”.
They are yet to receive a response.
The joint letter was written by the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa), Professional Educators Union, National Teachers Union and the South African Teachers’ Union.
There are about 400 000 teachers in the system.
Mugwena Maluleke, General Secretary of Sadtu said teachers need to be vaccinated now in June before they open for the third term. He said the initial plan was that they were going to be vaccinated in April.
“If we do that, we are then able to deal with their anxieties and their fears. They can use the period of June recess to ensure that they prioritise the teachers. If they are not able to prioritise all the teachers then they can target those who are at risk, being those who are 50 years and above.
“But it will be preferable before we start campaigning and demonstrating, to ensure that by the 26 of July at least the teachers are being vaccinated because the more the delay around the vaccination the more education is going to be affected,” he said.
All primary school learners are expected back at school on 26 July following a gazette by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. The gazette states that all learners at special education needs schools will also be going back on the same day.
Basil Manuel, Naptosa Executive Director said teachers must also be regarded as frontline workers. In fact teachers come into contact with large groups of people compared to the police, for example, he said.
“We are not trying to muscle out the over 60s and the people with comorbidities but we are saying we must be next because it serves more than one purpose. If we get it, parents become settled that their children are safer and secondly it also encourages parents to register when their time comes,” said Manuel.
He also said that the concern now was that young people in high schools are also showing that they are susceptible to the virus.
“Did you know that there were more than 80 schools closed in the Free State in the last week because of Covid cases,” said Manuel.
Last week MEC for Education in the Free State, Tate Makgoe, tweeted that a learner at a school in Welkom had died from Covid-19 related complications and that at the same school eight learners tested positive. The school was closed and only opened on Monday.
Last month 79 schools were closed in the Northern Cape because of a rise in infections, 18 schools still remain closed.
Manuel said last Thursday the five unions also sent out a survey to their members to gauge their attitude on being vaccinated. In the last survey the union did, which came out in February, 52% and 76% of principals and teachers respectively were willing to be vaccinated.
“By the end of the week we will know the outcome and I’m certain we are going to have a new number. I am projecting more than 80% more positive about [being] vaccinated now, said Manuel.
Mugwena said they were prepared to face the argument that the government cannot prioritise people that are 40 years and younger “at the expense of everyone else who is 60 years and above because those are candidates to death.”
“So, education has to take that into consideration. Those who are younger than 50 years might be delayed. But at least prioritise the 50 years and above, those with comorbidities and the learners with comorbidities.
“It is a push as the union we are involved in. We have been having several meetings with the department about this,” he said.