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Covid-19: Early years staff 'should have vaccine priority'

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image copyrightGetty Images
image captionEarly years settings in England remain open

Staff working in nurseries and pre-school settings should be given priority for receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, say early years groups.

While schools across England closed their doors to most pupils last week, early years settings are still open.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said the decision to keep nurseries open "needs to be looked at".

But England's chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty said settings were open to support working families.

The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (Pacey), Early Years Alliance (EYA) and National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) want vaccine priority for staff, and also mass testing in early years settings.

They are also urging the government to reinstate early entitlement funding support for settings which have had to close, or have seen a fall in the demand for funded places.

The organisations also want targeted funding for providers, like childminders, who have suffered from falls in parental demand.

'No support'

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the EYA, said: "It is simply not acceptable that, at the height of a global pandemic, early years providers are being asked to work with no support, no protection and no clear evidence that is safe for them to do so.

"We know how vital access to early education and care is to many families, but it cannot be right to ask the early years workforce to put themselves at risk."

Pacey chief executive Liz Bayram said: "We need better financial support, not just for settings that have to close, but for the many who decide to continue to provide services despite the risks and the significantly reduced numbers of children in attendance.

"Many Pacey members, most of whom are self-employed and on low incomes, cannot afford to temporarily close their business regardless of risk, and have no choice but to carry on."

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image captionThe UK's chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty says the risk of Covid to young children is very low

Chief executive of NDNA, Purnima Tanuku, said the government was asking early years providers "to go above and beyond" in this lockdown and "cannot be an afterthought for ministers".

"Now, they are the only part of the education sector fully open to all children and must be given priority," she said.

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One BBC website reader, Jeanette, contacted us to voice her concern about a relative working in the early years sector.

She said it was impossible for staff to maintain social distancing from each other when working with young children.

"It is not the children who are the risk at nurseries - it is the co-workers who are very often working in settings which are fairly small rooms, with four adults working closely with the children," she told the BBC.

"It's the transmission between adults that I'm worried about. It is impossible for them to maintain social distancing when working with the children.

"The staff are not allowed to wear PPE of any sort, including clear facial visors, for apparent fear of upsetting the children whose parents obviously wear facial coverings."

Jeanette said it would be "wonderful" if staff could get the vaccine, but said that with early years staff being generally quite young, she thought this was unlikely at the moment.

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The UK's chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty told the BBC that nurseries were open "to allow people who need to go to work or need to do particular activities to do so".

He added: "We all do know that children are at very, very low risk of this virus relative to other ages. The fact that nurseries are open, it's not a risk to the children."

The Department for Education said all essential workers, including all education and childcare workers, had access to priority testing via the online booking portal.

The department said that under the priority groups for the first phase of vaccine rollout, those over 50 and those in a risk group, would be eligible for vaccination within the first phase of the programme.

"The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has asked the Department of Health and Social Care to consider occupational vaccination in the next phase of vaccine rollout," said a spokeswoman.

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