Pregnant teachers fear a return to school while unvaccinated

Pregnant teachers fear a return to school while unvaccinated

One of the pregnant teachers who contacted the Irish Examiner pointed out that her partner cannot attend important appointments with her — yet it's deemed safe for her to return to a classroom full of unvaccinated children. Picture: Pexels

The Department of Education is standing over the arrangements in place for pregnant school staff as the Delta variant is causing mounting fears among pregnant teachers of returning to classrooms unvaccinated.

Pregnant education staff for the upcoming school year are required to submit for an occupational health assessment, carried out by Medmark. 

Pregnant teachers write to the 'Irish Examiner' 

A number of pregnant teachers have now contacted the Irish Examiner expressing their fears about the return to school unvaccinated in just a couple of weeks. 

They have asked to stay anonymous due to being in the early stages of pregnancy. The HSE recommends that pregnant people receive their first dose at or after 14 weeks of pregnancy. It has been reported that 12 pregnant women with Covid-19 were treated at a hospital in Belfast over the last week.

One primary school teacher said she is due to get her first vaccine in two weeks, meaning she will not be fully vaccinated by the time schools open. 

At the moment, my fully vaccinated partner, who understands how to social distance and wears a mask, cannot attend important appointments with me in the hospital because they are saying that pregnant women are extremely vulnerable. However, it appears that I am safe to be in a classroom full of unvaccinated students who cannot socially distance or wear masks. 

A spokesman for the Department of Education said HSE guidance confirms that pregnant employees can safely attend school when infection prevention and control measures are in place.

“This is the case whether or not the pregnant employee has been vaccinated,” he said. 

In February, the Department of Education requested that medical specialists assess and recommend guidelines for pregnant employees, he added.

“At this time, the Department took a precautionary approach and instructed pregnant employees to work from home pending the outcome of this review.” 

These guidelines were published by the HSE last month, and were authored by the Civil Service chief medical officer, the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Public Health Medicine in the HSE, and Medmark Occupational Healthcare.

The Covid-19 health risk assessments are performed by a team of qualified and experienced specialists in occupational medicine, he added.

“Available medical evidence, including reports from treating consultants as well as vaccination status of employees, are considered during this process.” 

The general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI), Kieran Christie has called on the Minister for Education to “have another look” at unvaccinated pregnant teachers expected to return to school shortly.

“The minister has a wider duty of care to these teachers,” he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

Pregnant teachers were “incredibly stressed out” about the return to school especially given the high transmission rates of the Delta variant. They were losing sleep, he added.

The ASTI was trying to engage with the Department of Education about a recent circular which stated that even those with a significant ailment or in a high-risk category must attend the workplace.

“The Department of Education issued a circular some days ago, it deals with aspects in relation to people who have got significant ailments that puts them in what they call very high-risk category and just to quote - it's an astonishing line in a circular, it says and these people are pregnant as well, ‘high risk - you must attend the workplace.’ “Pregnant women want low risk or no risk in relation to their health and the health of their unborn children.” 

Mr Christie pointed out that pregnant teachers who were not yet 14 weeks pregnant could not be vaccinated.

It was just not acceptable that pregnant teachers were expected to come into school, they would be terrified from when they arrived in the morning until they left in the evening, he said.

Mr Christie said that the Minister’s party colleague Senator Lisa Chambers had called for “a relook” at the situation.

“It’s not sustainable.”

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