A little jab'll do ya: Some N.L. teachers back mandatory COVID vaccinations for school staff

A CBC News questionnaire recently sent to education professionals found support for requiring school staff in Newfoundland and Labrador to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

CBC News questionnaire sent to education professionals across the country

More than three in four respondents to a CBC News questionnaire sent to education professionals in Newfoundland and Labrador said COVID-19 vaccinations should be mandatory for school staff. (Stephane Mahe/Reuters)

This story is part of a CBC News series examining the stresses the pandemic has placed on educators and the school system. For the series, CBC News sent a questionnaire to thousands of education professionals to find out how they and their students are doing in this extraordinary school year. Nearly 9,500 educators responded. Read more stories in this series here.

Some educators in Newfoundland and Labrador have expressed support for requiring school staff in the province to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

That was one of the findings of a recent CBC News questionnaire sent to education professionals across the country, from St. John's to Vancouver Island.

Among the questions: do you believe that vaccines should be mandatory for school staff?

In Newfoundland and Labrador, more than three-quarters of those who answered said yes.

That number was among the highest of all regions of the country that were surveyed. The overall number in Atlantic Canada averaged seven in 10 responding positively. It dipped as low as six in 10 "yes" answers in British Columbia.

A Toronto employment lawyer says the issue has been the subject of much debate.

"This is probably the hottest topic in terms of employment law, and so I'm getting calls nonstop on it," Ryan Watkins, a partner with the firm Whitten & Lublin, told CBC News.

Watkins says there is a case to be made that employers — in this case, a school board — can require COVID vaccinations for staff.

Employment lawyer Ryan Watkins says the No. 1 question he's been getting is: can vaccines be mandatory? (Submitted by Ryan Watkins)

"An employer is required to keep their workplace safe," Watkins said. "And one way we can do it with a global pandemic is to ensure that our workforce is vaccinated."

He cautioned that there are exceptions, for medical or religious accommodations.

No mandatory vaccinations in N.L.

But mandatory inoculations are not on the radar in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Six months ago, at a provincial coronavirus briefing, Premier Andrew Furey said vaccinations were "highly suggested, but at this point we're not considering legal measures to make it mandatory."

And there has been no movement on the issue since.

The Health Department recently told CBC News that receiving a COVID-19 vaccination is not mandatory in this province, and public health officials are not considering changing that.

Schooling Under Stress project

Last month, CBC News forwarded a questionnaire to 2,202 education professionals across the province. Some 200 of them responded.

It was part of a cross-Canada effort to share the voices and views of thousands of teachers, as part of a project called Schooling Under Stress.

Opinions contained in the CBC questionnaire should be treated differently from the results of a public opinion poll or survey. 

The sample of respondents is not necessarily representative of either the voting public, or of education professionals in the province.

(Photo Illustration/CBC News)

More than three-quarters of respondents in Newfoundland and Labrador were teachers. The rest were teaching support staff (such as education assistants or librarians), maintenance/facilities workers, or administrators (principals/vice-principals).

CBC used publicly available email addresses listed on school websites to send the questionnaires in late April. 

Respondents called for vaccination priority

While the majority of respondents in this province called for school staff to get mandatory vaccinations, there was also discontent expressed about where teachers fell in the queue to get the needle.

Teachers were not prioritized in the initial phases of vaccine rollout, but were included in a more recent call earlier this month.

Respondents to the questionnaire thought that should have happened sooner. 

Among their comments:

  • "Teachers should have been vaccinated at the very beginning of Phase 2. This wait is unacceptable. We deserve better. Students are often not wearing masks or not wearing them properly and we are unable to social distance. We are at a very high risk of contracting COVID-19."
  • "Teachers should have been vaccinated when students returned to class. Teachers are in every household bubble in the province and as essential workers we should be treated with the respect we deserve."
  • "It is also an insult to be one of the last groups to be vaccinated. I would have expected to be vaccinated prior to the reopening of schools."

The province's teachers union recently said about 15 teachers from Mount Pearl Senior High contracted COVID-19 during the variant-fuelled outbreak that plunged Newfoundland and Labrador into a February lockdown.

Canada-wide, roughly 85 per cent of respondents to the CBC News questionnaire said they are somewhat, or very, concerned about contracting COVID-19 at work.

Last fall, a similar CBC News questionnaire found that many Newfoundland and Labrador teachers were feeling burnt out.

At the time, respondents indicated they were exhausted and fearful, as they coped with being in classrooms during the pandemic.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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