Childcare providers have called for a higher prioritisation in the Government’s vaccine rollout plans amid fears among staff as many creches return to about 90 per cent occupancy.
They are also seeking subsidised weekly antigen tests for staff and additional grant-aid for personal protective equipment as social distancing is not possible with young children.
Creches and other providers have remained open since the end of the first Covid-19 lockdown and provided care for the children of essential workers during the Level 5 restrictions put in place after Christmas.
Children in the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme returned to creches last week while early learning and childcare is t be fully reopened for all children on March 29th under the current Government plans.
Some 30,000 childcare workers are included along with teachers in the eleventh group in the order of priority for the vaccine rollout.
The Federation of Early Childhood Providers – which represents around 1,700 services – has been joined by the National Childhood Network and Crann Support Group in calling for higher prioritisation for staff in the sector citing concern about the spread of new variants of the virus.
Elaine Dunne, the chairwoman of the National Federation of Early Childhood Providers said staff should be moved up the allocation list to "at least cohort six".
Ms Dunne said: “A lot of services have returned to almost full capacity... And, although we have very good policies and procedures in place, we would feel safer and more valued if we were given priority for the vaccine”.
Ms Dunne said workers need to stay safe and well “so that wider services in society, like healthcare, can be provided and the economy can reopen.”
She said that failing an increase in the prioritisation for childcare staff, or until they are all vaccinated, services should be provided with antigen tests “immediately” due to the “exceptional difficulty in preventing virus transmission when working with young children.”
A spokesman for the Department of Children said that Minister Roderic O’Gorman acknowledges concerns within the childcare sector due to the pandemic and has worked with the Department of Health and HSE to ensure they are addressed and appropriate supports are in place.
The spokesman said vaccinations are a matter for the Department of Health, that Mr O’Gorman is aware of the sector’s concerns about prioritisation and he has engaged with the Department of Health on the matter.
The spokesman said that the public health advice on antigen testing is that neither staff nor children need to be tested for Covid-19 unless they are displaying symptoms or have been identified as a close contact.
He said the matter will be kept under review but, at present, the existing public health pathway for childcare services should be followed.
On the call for additional grant aid funding the spokesman outlined “comprehensive supports” that have been made available to the sector including the ability for providers to access the Emergency Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) without having to show the drop in turnover required of other employers and the continued payment of Department of Children subsidies.
He said the extension of the EWSS to June and continued Department subsidies along with the fees paid by the parents of children returning to childcare “provides significant additional resourcing for services in the coming months to cover additional cost of PPE.”