Childcare workers among ‘key’ cohort for vaccine priority, HSE says

Confusion over priority status as childcarers also included with educators in category 11

Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane has called for more clarity on what category six covers. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane has called for more clarity on what category six covers. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

The Health Service Executive has told Sinn Féin that childcare workers will be considered part of the “key workers” cohort in the State’s vaccination priority list. However, there was confusion last night as the Department of Health insisted no final decisions had been made.

If childcare workers are included in the priority category, which will be the sixth to be vaccinated, it could prove controversial as they are also included alongside other education workers in category 11. If they are instead included as key workers, it would suggest they will be vaccinated ahead of teachers.

In response to a parliamentary question from Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane, the Health Service Executive said that “childcare workers are included in group six key workers”. Key workers are further defined within Government documentation as “providing services essential to the vaccination programme”.

Mr Cullinane welcomed the inclusion of childcare workers, saying it was “wise” as childcare would be needed to reopen more broadly as schools start to reopen. However, he called for more clarity on what category six covers.

‘Broad’ and ‘vague’

“It’s very broad and also vague,” he said. “Rather than getting information piecemeal, it would be better for them to outline what cohorts of workers actually fit into that category six.”

When asked to confirm that childcare workers had been placed in category six, and for details on the other professions that may have been categorised as key workers, the HSE referred queries to the Department of Health.

The Department said that it, alongside the HSE, would consider who would be included in group six, and a spokesman for the Minister said “work has yet to be completed” on the key workers category.

In response to a separate parliamentary question, the HSE also told Mr Cullinane that family carers “are likely to be considered in the key worker group”.

The HSE also confirmed the place of other professions in the categorisation, such as the State Pathologist, who it said would be considered a frontline healthcare worker and included in category two.

‘Living document’

On Tuesday, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said on RTÉ radio there were “no plans at present to move anyone up on the schedule”, but added that when the schedule was published, “it was described as a living document, and that’s what it will remain”.

Darragh O’Connor, head of organising with Siptu, said that immunisation was key for childcare workers. “Early-years educators are essential frontline workers, but social distancing is not an option when working with such young children. Government need to give them every necessary protection, including access to vaccination.”

The vaccination priority list was decided by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, and was then approved by the National Public Health Emergency Team in December, as the State ramped up its plans to deliver Covid-19 vaccines to the population in one of the largest logistical undertakings in the history of the Republic.

On Tuesday, Mr Donnelly said that 35,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which has been approved by the European Medicines Agency, would arrive in the State next week.