WATERLOO -- Staff at a Waterloo daycare centre walked off the job Monday, taking a day of action to call on the province to move child-care workers up in the COVID-19 vaccination priority list.

All 42 staff at Emmanuel at Brighton Child Care had signs saying "E is for Essential" and "Vaccinate child-care workers," and chanting they deserve to be vaccinated now.

Staff said they want to be prioritized in vaccine rollout, since they're working with children between 16 months and five years old, many of whom aren't able to wear a mask.

"We know there aren't enough vaccines in Waterloo Region," executive director Dana Bernhardt said. "The fact that we don't know when, could be June before we are vaccinated, and they are here every day. Normally these playgrounds are filled with children, they are playing and happy and thriving, and the educators are not distanced from them in any capacity."

Staff said they're concerned about potentially exposing themselves to COVID-19 at work and bringing it home to their families.

"Anyone who works in the child-care sector deserves to be vaccinated as soon as possible," Bernhardt said.

"It's negligent for us at this point," educator Lori Mar said. "We're scared, we're tired."
Mar has worked as an educator for 31 years. She said her job has become more difficult since the start of the pandemic.

"We're not protecting anyone," she said. "We're not protecting their families and therefore we're not protecting the community at large. We are taking this risk every day."

Families showed their support for staff on Monday.

"It doesn't make sense that we're deeming them essential to our livelihood and our kids continuing to go, however they're not represented essentially in terms of being on the list to get vaccinations ahead of other people," parent Alysia Noonan said.

The Ministry of Health said child-care workers are included as essential workers who can't work from home under Phase Two of vaccine rollout. That group is expected to start receiving vaccines in May.

Officials said vaccine administration is entirely dependent on supply at this time and they're hoping to accelerate rollout once there are more doses available.

“Our commitment is to get every single child care worker in Ontario vaccinated as soon as supply becomes available — quite frankly we need more vaccines from our federal partners to deliver on this urgent imperative. Every single child care worker 40+ is now eligible to get vaccinated. Minister (Stephen) Lecce has continued to advocate for the accelerated delivery of vaccines to all child care and education workers as soon as supply is available," a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education said in an emailed statement. "Health and safety training, adherence to protocols, practicing hand hygiene, consistent screening, mask use and physical distancing have been key factors contributing to the safe environments fostered within child care settings and their ability to remain open to serve front-line staff and families, like our front-line nurses and ICU doctors. Our priority is keeping our child care-centres open and most especially safe.”