MOST teachers working with students with disabilities at Warrnambool's Merri River School have received their first vaccination dose against COVID-19, despite specialist school staff across the state crying out for the jab.
Merri River School principal Robert Dowell said most of the 80 staff had received their first jab thanks to an arrangement with South West Healthcare allowing even younger staff to receive their first Pfizer doses.
"Our staff here have been fortunate," Mr Dowell said. "I'd say 'thank you' to our local hospital for looking out for us."
He said a number of the 180 students at the school were classified as very medically vulnerable.
"Therefore it is very important we are fully protected," Mr Dowell said. "The parents will be very happy to know we are being vaccinated."
A Department of Health and Human Services spokesman told The Standard that all teaching, support and administration staff working directly with students in specialist schools were currently eligible to be vaccinated in Phase 1b Priority Group 2.
But Cameron Peverett, president of the Principals' Association of Specialist Schools, said teachers were not being treated as a priority unless local hospitals made arrangements to provide vaccines.
"It's very much if you are lucky you'll be offered, that hasn't happened in Colac," Mr Peverett, who is also principal at the Colac Specialist Development School, said.
He has raised the issue with Victoria's education department but so far has received no indication staff would be vaccinated sooner.
At specialist school Portland Bay, staff aged over 50 were contacted to receive the vaccine by Portland District Health in April, but principal Steve Crossley said about 20 younger staff were not offered their Pfizer jab yet.
"Anyone providing personal care, toileting, showering, or feeding should be prioritised and that would include at Portland Bay," Mr Crossley said.
Health Minister Martin Foley said there were difficulties with supply but the state government wanted to make teachers broadly a priority.
"I have deep sympathy and a deep respect for the great work that particularly specialist school teachers do," Mr Foley said. "But again it gets back to that difficulty of supply and based on risk assessment nationally, which groups should be prioritised."
South West Healthcare chief Craig Fraser said early in the hospital's vaccination campaign it targeted vulnerable groups.
"This included the aged care residents and staff, healthcare and emergency workers, disability providers and educators and targeted other people," he said.
"The Merri River School was one of many groups who promoted this opportunity and it was great to see them encourage their staff to be involved.
"These vaccinations commenced in early April and we are still encouraging people who work in these areas to access our clinic and we will ensure they have a time to be vaccinated."
With Kyra Gillespie
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