THUNDER BAY – Sooner would have been better, but union leaders are thankful teachers and other school employees in Thunder Bay will be allowed to start booking COVID-19 appointments on Thursday.
The move, announced last week by the province, should go a long way to returning classrooms to normal operations by the fall, especially if school employees are able to get their second dose in August.
Carlo Cappello, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association’s Thunder Bay branch, said it was news his membership has been waiting to hear.
“It was definitely welcome news for teachers and other education workers that will be getting vaccinated. The hope is we will get both vaccinations before the start of the school year in September. That would be ideal,” Cappello said.
“We are disappointed that the vaccine rollout for teachers and education workers has been pushed back, but we’re confident that it will happen relatively soon and we’re definitely happy that it’s happening regardless.”
In Thunder Bay, teachers and other education workers are eligible to start booking on Thursday, the same day the district health unit lowers its vaccine eligibility to anyone 50 and older. Those 40 and older are already eligible to book an appointment to receive an AstraZeneca vaccine.
Rich Seeley, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation said it would have been nice if all teachers had been included in earlier front-line worker vaccination strategies, but said they were happy the province last month opened up appointments to teachers and education workers who work with special needs students.
“But yeah, more or less we were kind of thinking late May we’d be in line and here we are. So theoretically, if you look at what the federal government is saying as well, if they meet all their targets, we could be looking at getting our members double vaccinated by the end of August – which would be great, which would probably allow next year to get closer to some kind of normal,” Seeley said.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Ontario's education and child care staff have gone above and beyond to support students and working parents at this critical time.
Schools at all three boards in Thunder Bay have been reduced to online learning only since March 1, when the case count in the city soared above 450, including several cases tied to schools.
Classrooms were scheduled to reopen on April 19, but Premier Doug Ford put an indefinite pause on in-person learning, as cases surged in southern Ontario.
“We’re hoping that we can return to a normal system next year,” Cappello said.
Both union leaders say they expect most of their membership will elect to get a vaccination, the course of action they plan to recommend, but not require.
Note: The story has been updated to include comment from Education Minister Stephen Lecce