With just over seven weeks left in the school year, New Westminster school staffers are now able to book appointments for their COVID-19 vaccines.
“I’m relieved that it’s finally happening, but I’m still dismayed that it took so long,” said Sarah Wethered, president of the New Westminster Teachers’ Union. “This was announced during spring break, and spring break was six weeks ago.”
Many teachers in the district have managed to snag vaccines already – through the province’s main age-based rollout, through the AstraZeneca program that’s been offered in pharmacies for designated age groups, or by “stalking” clinics looking for leftover vaccines at the end of the day.
But Wethered said the formal rollout of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine to all school staff, through a dedicated booking site and access code, is welcome – and overdue.
The past month has seen numerous COVID-19 exposures in New Westminster schools, with eight of the district’s 12 schools having seen exposures since the Easter long weekend. Three schools – Glenbrook Middle, New Westminster Secondary and Richard McBride Elementary – have seen three exposures each since then.
Wethered said the ongoing exposure notices have contributed to rising teacher anxiety.
“It was especially high, especially because of the new variants and the lack of transparency around when people would be getting vaccinated,” she said.
NEW WESTMINSTER TEACHERS LEFT OUT
Wethered said New Westminster teachers have been frustrated watching their counterparts in nearby districts – including Surrey, Delta and Coquitlam – get priority access to vaccines while New Westminster and Burnaby teachers were left out.
Fraser Health says it has been targeting school workers in “high-transmission neighbourhoods,” but Wethered pointed out that not all school staff in New Westminster live in the city – some travel from as far afield as Chilliwack or Squamish, and many live in those designated high-transmission areas.
Wethered said a great deal of the frustration stemmed from the fact that Fraser Health didn’t provide a timeline for local teachers to give them certainty of when their shots would happen.
“I think that’s where most of the frustration has been, is the not knowing,” she said.
The vaccine rollout for New Westminster school staff comes as part of a Fraser Health announcement that all licensed child-care workers, school-based staff, police and firefighters in the region (which spans the territory from Burnaby to Boston Bar) are now eligible to book their appointments.
On May 4, Fraser Health said immunizations of those workers are expected to be completed within 10 days.
Wethered said she was pleased to see New Westminster police and firefighters included in the announcement.
“I was happy to see that our first responders within New Westminster are also getting vaccinated. I can only imagine the frustration they were experiencing as well,” she said.