'It is scary' - Early years workers' plea for Covid-19 vaccine priority
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Worried childminders and nursery owners who feel forgotten during the third national lockdown are urging government to vaccinate early years workers.
The call has been made as the government has promised to vaccinate 13.9 million of the most vulnerable by mid-February.
But a group of early years workers in Norwich and the surrounding area are saying for the safety of people working within the industry and their loved ones, early years workers should receive the Covid-19 vaccine, along with teachers, as soon as possible.
Nurseries and childminders are open to all children during this lockdown. In the first lockdown they were just open to children of key workers and vulnerable individuals.
Lacey Douglass, administration manager of The Heathers Nursery on Bracken Avenue, said staff were "at risk".
The nursery suffered an outbreak of coronavirus just before Christmas which caused illness in six out of the 12 staff, including her.
Another staff member affected was a woman in her 40s who was on a ventilator for five days, but has returned home.
Mrs Douglass, 45, the early years representative on the Norfolk Schools Forum, said: "I have never felt so poorly.
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"It was scary to go back to work. For the staff who didn't test positive, it will be in the back of their minds that it could happen again."
She praised the support from Norfolk County Council in terms of providing PPE but said the coronavirus pandemic could force some early years settings to close permanently.
She and other early years workers said even though young children, who cannot socially distance, might not be at risk of becoming unwell from coronavirus, they could pass it onto others.
Jennifer Harper, who runs domestic preschool/nursery JCB's Childcare on Hunter Road, said: "During this lockdown there is less certainty because so much of it is based on parental choice.
"It is very tricky. It is daunting for early years workers who are vulnerable or live with vulnerable family members.
"I have got a very demoralized staff team that don't feel valued by the government and I can't do anything about it."
Queen's Hill childminder, Jacqui Knights, said: "I'm happy to remain open but there are other childminders who want to close but cannot because of financial reasons.
"Children are asymptomatic with coronavirus symptoms and that is where the frustration comes from."
Sprowston childminder Sheila Smith, 69, from Cromwell Road, who caught coronavirus from a young person she was caring for before Christmas, said: "Nurseries and childminders seem to have been forgotten and are not mentioned by government.
"I think other childminders are worried. It has been awkward because nurseries and childminders are allowed to stay open but schools are closed to most children.
"There has been a lot of chopping and changing. That must be a nightmare for parents."
Home carer and registered childminder, Laura King, 65, from Lambert Road, Sprowston, has temporarily stopped working because her 69-year-old husband is clinically vulnerable.
She said: "When I'm going into people's homes I'm meeting parents and other family members.
"That could be spreading coronavirus more than if I was in my own home because I'm mixing with more people.
"It is important we get the vaccine because if we didn't help, people wouldn't be able to go to work. We are key workers."
In an online survey carried out by this paper asking readers to vote on who they think should be prioritised for the vaccine, 10 people voted for childminders and 24 voted for nursery and pre-school staff, out of 802 individual votes.
John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services on the county council, said it was continuing to follow government guidance to support early years providers.
"The department for education guidance is very clear that we cannot use funding where providers have chosen not to open to children," he said.
“We distribute early years funding for all 3 and 4 year olds, and for eligible 2 year old children, but are bound by the conditions of the grant set by central government.
"Where temporary factors outside of a providers control are affecting attendance, we are continuing to provide funding as usual."