Case for vaccinating teachers has grown as schools return with testing regimes: Jayne Dowle

The uniform had been washed and ironed since before Christmas, the skirt hastily lengthened on Sunday evening. We were ready for Lizzie to return to school on Monday, but were we ready for her to become the first person in the family to self-administer a rapid lateral flow Covid test?

As it turns out, the thing she was dreading the most turned out to be a simple procedure and the result came back negative almost immediately. I know this because as her parent, I was notified both by email and text. This brusque black and white officialdom dropping into my phone felt weird, disembodied somehow.

My 15-year-old daughter is now a number as well as a name, presumably for the rest of her life. And, I assume, the details of all of us who share her household are now logged in the system too, in case one day that test comes back positive, we arrange a PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) lab test to confirm the result, and are then all obliged to self-isolate or face a fine of up to £10,000.

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Without question, we would be sensible and not risk our own health or spreading the virus to others, but putting our destiny in this flawed Test and Trace system unnerves me hugely.

A lesson at Outwood Academy in Woodlands, Doncaster in Yorkshire, as pupils in England return to school for the first time in two months as part of the first stage of lockdown easing. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Until this week, I’d refused to sign up to Test and Trace. Not out of cussedness or because I’m a conspiracy theorist, but because since its inception last summer I have had significant doubts about its efficiency. It didn’t take me too long to persuade my husband and teenagers to join my renegade action.

I seriously resent the billions in public money being spent on Test and Trace and I’m deeply concerned about its serious flaws. This week the Public Accounts Committee questioned not only the £37bn cost, but shared detrimental criticisms; it relies on consultants, some of whom are paid more than £6,600 a day, and contact tracers have sat idle with not enough work to fill half their time even when coronavirus cases were rising.

I’ve also heard from a leaked official report picked up by Sky News that data from hundreds of millions of check-ins by people who visited pubs, restaurants and hairdressers before lockdown has been barely used. What’s more, those private personal details have been utterly compromised because public health officials encouraged pubs and restaurants to contact their customers directly. This is a clear breach of data protection law which could leave already beleaguered businesses facing legal action.

So forgive me then for being slightly wary of being asked to stand powerless whilst my 15-year-old daughter is obliged to become part of this entirely questionable set-up in order to receive an education.

Children at Outwood Academy in Woodlands, Doncaster in Yorkshire. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

It is important, I think, just to take a moment to consider that 12 months ago we never dreamt that our teenagers would be testing themselves every few days for infection from a worldwide pandemic. I salute each and every one of them for going to school this week and simply getting on with it.

I wish that certain government ministers could be equally brave and commit to a clear decision to prioritise vaccination for all teachers, school support staff and nursery workers. The current approach puts all the onus on testing, when common sense and empirical evidence suggest that testing is only half of the equation.

I am yet to hear a convincing argument for not vaccinating those working in education, from any politician. Whilst the vaccine roll-out itself is clearly an unprecedented success, thanks in no small part to the tenacity and dedication of NHS staff and volunteers, the pecking order leaves questions unanswered.

I have friends and acquaintances in their fifties with no serious health issues sitting at home furloughed from work who have been offered the vaccination by their GP or gone online and booked themselves easily into a vaccination centre.

It galls me that some of these are whooping with social media joy at their success – mostly because they want to book a foreign holiday – whilst exhausted parents of schoolchildren and those with under-fives are waiting for the inevitable message that school or nursery has had to close because there’s a coronavirus outbreak amongst the adults.

This anxiety-inducing knife edge could be avoided with a simple jab. There are just over half a million teachers in the whole of the UK. And almost 21 million people so far have had a first vaccine dose – equivalent to more than one in three adults – with at least 960,000 already receiving their second shot.

Vaccinating teachers makes perfect sense to most parents. It would go a long way towards ensuring that after a year of total upheaval our schools and other educational settings could settle down, focus on the children and young people in their care and reassure parents that putting their sons and daughters in the firing line will be worth it.

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