Vaccinating teachers should be a strategic priority

David Aftar, the principal of Netiv Zevulun elementary school in Modi'in, Israel opens the school year, September 1, 2020 (Courtesy: Netiv Zevulun, David Aftar)

Yesterday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein ordered vaccine shipments stopped to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. The reason? They apparently directed vaccine doses to teachers who weren’t over 60 or thought of as high-risk.  The hospital has, rightfully, shot back since teachers are, along with police, in a high-priority group. The government has asked the hospital to offer the vaccine to police officers regardless of age and health, but is “punishing” the hospital for doing the same with teachers.

The coincidence that former coronavirus pointman Rommi Gamzu runs the hospital notwithstanding, and never minding his argument that it was part of a mini-drive to make sure doses didn’t go to waste, vaccinating teachers and school staff would help get the country back to normal sooner. 

The population will be much better for it in terms of mental health and productivity.

A psychological pandemic

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my kids. All three of them. All the time. But there is a balance we strike when we have to work from home and kids see their school hours (justifiably) cut back. Parenting and work are both stressors, but juggling them during these times is a unique strain in Israel or any country.

Mental health is seeing a pandemic of its own. The University of Oregon Rapid Assessment project for early childhood intervention has monitored a massive increase in stress among parents of all kinds (intuitively, single parents and those with special needs children are closer to the breaking point than us fortunately married couples).

The random outbursts or impulsive crying, the sudden feelings of inadequacy, the elevated anxiety and depression — they take their own toll. It’s no wonder that people don’t want to talk about, let alone see, the devastating photos of half-naked coronavirus patients struggle for their lives while hooked up to ventilators.

It’s all too much to bear.

That’s just the adults though.

Kids’ mental health is just as chaotic

It would be amiss to ignore kids’ struggles. Cooped up with these same frazzled parents, they are going through the very development of their emotions. They have to gird themselves, be steely in the face of a lethal pandemic that could threaten their grandparents and great-grandparents. 

My wife’s grandmother is going through a stint in the hospital, not for COVID-19, but my 7-year-old son is well, well aware of the dangers for a 91-year-old woman at a time like this.

Add a shortened school day, no extracurriculars and rarer chances to see friends. While it might make many kids stronger in the long run, no one should assume that. These are struggles that I can only assume that teachers see in the eyes of their students as much as they feel it from their parents. For teachers and staff, it’s a burden they also bear like the parents working from home between diapers and kids popping into Zoom meetings.

As a result, understandably, productivity is down.

The extra effort 

The balance between work and family is a struggle during the best of times. Throw in multiple pick-up times on days kids get to go to school, their needs, sibling fighting, tantrums, and the like, our workdays aren’t sitting comfortably 9-5. We don’t get the solace of a 45-minute commute in the morning and the evening. We are on duty all day, everyday, in ways that wear the best of families down.

This isn’t to say we aren’t all working hard. We certainly are, and maybe harder than ever before. We have to in order to compensate for the distractions. Perhaps it will make us all even more productive when offices are part of our daily lives again. But for now, we deal. 

But my situation is by far better than those parents that have to suffer through these constant work stoppages, recoiling in and out of unemployment lines trying to get the basics to their kids. 

Those families depend on the resources of the country from the ones who are fortunate enough to work from home: government revenues for social programs, bituah leumi (national insurance), and whatever relief programs the Israeli government should be passing. They depend on production and Israel’s competitive economy.

Those resources can only be as available as those who have the chance to work can continue to work, contributing their share to the country so that we can all keep each other on our feet.

A strategic jab

We can begin to climb out of this. There is no instant fix, but stabilizing the education system and the social lives of the country’s children will go far in helping the country recover mentally, emotionally, and economically. Putting teachers at the front of the line — not ahead of the elderly, special needs, and medical pros of course, but right behind them — can help parents and children, teachers and staff restore some of their sense of space, of normalcy, and less fluctuated schedule.

By no means do I think that we will all magically be back to our pre-COVID selves. That takes time. But we can start. Kids being able to see their friends beyond 1:00 PM everyday with regular school hours, after-school programs, extracurrics, and or sports — plus coming home to parents that are at ease, not anxious, and much happier — will help the country recover in every possible dimension.

This is a stressful time for everyone. I try to remember that I’m in a much better situation than Israelis without a job, or stuck in a bed with corona. This vaccine is sparking a light at the end of the tunnel. We can hold on just a few more weeks to see this inoculation campaign bear fruit. Let’s focus that energy with a strategy that can help as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

Let teachers move up in line.

About the Author
Gedalyah Reback is an experienced writer on technology, startups, the Middle East and Islam. He also focuses on issues of personal status in Judaism, namely conversion.
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