And last night, the Department of Education confirmed that unvaccinated teachers will be able to teach children, even though youngsters are now regarded as the group at highest risk of contracting the virus.
The revelations come as Education Minister Norma Foley prepares to issue a return-to-school circular later this week and as schools prepare to reopen at the end of the month.
And they are likely to add further to parents’ worries about how to protect youngsters aged under 12 who cannot be vaccinated against the virus.
Last night, public health expert, Professor Anthony Staines, said parents and students had a right to know whether teachers and university lectures were vaccinated before returning to classrooms and college campuses.
The Dublin City University specialist told the Irish Mail on Sunday: ‘I think our students have a right to know whether we’re vaccinated or not and our students can make their own minds up about whether they are willing to come into rooms with people who aren’t vaccinated.
‘But if you don’t know whether I’m vaccinated or not there’s not much you can do about it.
‘I don’t think “you can’t ask me about being vaccinated” is that relevant. You have a right to privacy but everyone around you has a right to bodily integrity as well.
‘I’m not a lawyer… but I think there’s an arguable case for saying bodily integrity rights go beyond privacy rights, they may trump them in some cases.’
He added: ‘If my children were still at school in these circumstances I’d like the people who are teaching them to be vaccinated because there is a risk of transmission to the children. Vaccination greatly reduces it.
‘Yes, I do think teachers should be asked to declare whether they are vaccinated and parents should know that information. I think it’s unfair to the kids [if a teacher is not vaccinated].
‘If you don’t want to get vaccinated I think the people around you should be allowed to know that.
At the height of the pandemic, teachers insisted they were essential workers. And earlier this year when the first vaccines were rolled out according to age groups, teachers demanded to leapfrog ahead of others because classrooms were high-risk workplaces.
However, unlike essential health care workers who can be moved aside if they decline to be vaccinated, teachers and other school staff, such as special needs assistants (SNAs), will not have to declare their vaccination status.
A union source revealed: ‘All the trade unions were given until Friday to give comments about a circular which will set out the arrangements for returning to work whether you are vaccinated or not vaccinated.
‘Principals will not be entitled to ask staff if they are vaccinated.
‘That is not happening at the moment because it’s thought that to do so would not be permitted for GDPR reasons but that’s not to say it might not happen in future years.
‘The feeling is that no one is entitled to know the vaccination status of anyone else. The circular will be released at the end of the week,’ the source added.
Meanwhile, in a statement released to the MoS by the Department of Education last night, a spokesman for Education Minister Norma Foley confirmed: ‘As part of the public health response to the pandemic, all those who are eligible are being strongly encouraged to avail of a vaccine when it is offered.
‘Teachers and staff will have been offered and accepted vaccines before schools reopen.
‘Those who are not vaccinated are not precluded from safely attending the workplace and will be expected to do so with the exception of a very small number of employees who may be deemed to be at very high risk by the Occupational Health Service.’
During the last academic year, almost 1,000 SNAs were allowed to work from home using online services such as Zoom and Teams because they were pregnant or had underlying health problems.
However, vaccines have since become widely available, so it is believed as many as half of these SNAs will be returning to work at special needs schools and autism centres when they re-open..
But if there are more than three adults in any of these classrooms, then pregnant and SNAs with underlying health issues will either be re-assigned to mainstream class rooms where there is only one adult teacher working or else they will work remotely from home.