'Protect the protectors' - demand for key worker vaccination intensifies
- Credit: Fakenham Junior School/Denise Bradley/Norfolk Police Federation/UNISON
Calls are intensifying for key workers to be prioritised and healthcare professionals fast-tracked as the coronavirus vaccine roll-out continues across Norfolk and Waveney.
Teachers and police officers are among the workers for whom the case is being argued for immunisation to be brought forward.
And ambulance staff who "could not be more frontline" admit it has been "frustrating" to see others receive their jabs already.
As it stands, people most at risk from experiencing complications after contracting Covid-19 are being contacted first by the NHS.
That includes over-80s, care home residents and frontline health and care workers.
Older age groups, adults on the NHS shielding list and people under 65 with long-term conditions are next on the list.
Official guidance has not yet been provided on when other key workers will be administered vaccines.
Despite schools being closed until at least February half term, Adam Mason, headteacher at Fakenham Junior School, believes the importance of immunising staff in educational settings must not be underestimated.
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"I fully agree with the government in that education should be a national priority," he said. "Therefore, to get children back into school without the fear of having to keep closing, all education staff should be moved up the list.
"This applies to teachers, teaching assistants, cleaners, administration staff - without any one of those groups, schools cannot operate.
"That does not mean I think we should go above the critically ill or vulnerable or the other priority groups, but we should come in after the half term.
"It's not to protect us, but to allow children back. Teachers are not any more at risk and that is not what they think."
Mr Mason's comments come after George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk, said he believed teachers and other key workers should be given a coronavirus vaccine before some elderly members of the population - including his parents.
He added: "My parents are vulnerable-elderly shielding, and they are reconciled that that is the price they pay as good citizens. It's more important we get key workers back to work."
Meanwhile, a Norfolk paramedic has revealed the relentless perils of working on the frontline as the new variant of Covid-19 spreads rapidly.
The ambulance worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said the prospect of being vaccinated was a "postcode lottery".
They added: "It's very frustrating as a lot of hospital staff are requesting and getting them at the end of the day if there's some left.
"We are queuing with our 'red' patients at NNUH as the area of A&E they go to is so busy with the rise in cases. I queued for two hours with a Covid-positive patient the other day waiting to offload.
"We are in and out of so many places and, although we wear masks all day, it's very hard to distance from your crew mate in a small ambulance.
"I heard some crews in the west have had vaccinations so I think it's a postcode lottery. We couldn't be more frontline and working in environments completely out of our control."
As for frontline colleagues in the police, their first jab could be several months away under the current arrangements.
Andy Symonds, chairman of Norfolk Police Federation, said officers who "put themselves and their families at risk" must be protected.
He added: "My colleagues have been working flat-out trying to deal with the pandemic and the challenges it brings.
“With the new variant spreading at an exponential rate, we need to ensure the very people who have been protecting our communities are themselves given protection in the form of a vaccine."
And trade union, UNISON, which represents thousands in Norfolk and Waveney, says the country cannot afford to leave behind integral key workers.
Tim Roberts, secretary for the eastern region, said: "The vaccine offers a ray of hope in dark times, but it’s vital it goes to the right people.
"It’s right that frontline health workers are among the first in the queue, but they shouldn’t have to elbow aside care workers or the people they’re looking after.
"Schools are still open for vulnerable children and key worker families, while the government has bullishly kept nurseries open to all children.
"It’s essential they’re safe, which means priority testing and vaccination for staff whose jobs make social distancing virtually impossible."