The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted every single person in the country. Many have lost jobs, been isolated from loved ones and many are feeling the effects of one of the longest lockdowns in the world. Students are no different. However, with the new plan to administer the all-important Covid-19 vaccines by age, students may well be the ones who feel these effects the longest. When the government announced the overhaul of the vaccine roll out plan from a categorised vaccine priority list to priority based on age, there was uproar. Teachers and SNAs were perhaps the loudest in their outrage. However, there are also thousands of students who work on the frontline every day in retail, as baristas, takeaway drivers and elsewhere. This overhaul of the vaccine roll out system is yet another way the government has let students down during this pandemic; while frontline healthcare workers receiving vaccine priority is vital, as more non-essential retail opens, the situation for many student workers is increasingly tenuous.
“Many are burnt out and clearly struggling; it should not be too much to ask that the government acknowledges this and tries to do something to ensure that next year is better.”
Students have undoubtedly been ignored by the government; this is evident from the complete lack of mention of college students in government announcements. Even with the new Department of Higher Education, colleges and universities are consistently left out of government leaders rhetoric. With a string of opposition motions being voted down by the government (including a People Before Profit motion to scrap college fees), it appears that not only are students not mentioned, but the government is actively working against us. It is difficult, if not impossible to remember the last time the Taoiseach mentioned college students. For all the rhetoric emphasising the importance of reopening schools, it is beyond insulting that college students are not included in considerations. While reopening schools is important, colleges also deserve a seat at these discussions. It is beyond frustrating that we are not afforded the same importance as schools at a government level, especially given that we have been expected to perform at an extremely high level for over a year now without many of the supports that we would normally have on campus. Many are burnt out and clearly struggling; it should not be too much to ask that the government acknowledges this and tries to do something to ensure that next year is better. Now, with college students being at the very bottom of the vaccine roll out list, the hope that we could be back on campus by September is waning.
The new vaccine roll out plan becomes even worse when you think of all the students who have spent the last year working on the frontline. Thankfully, the majority of student healthcare workers are now vaccinated. However, there has been zero acknowledgement of all the students who work in retail or in any other frontline job in the new roll out. This is of course, not exclusive to students; anyone who has worked through the highest level of lockdown and cannot work from home deserves to have that acknowledged in the vaccine roll out plan. Workers, including students, in public facing jobs, are inherently at greater risk of not only catching but spreading the virus. It just so happens that a larger proportion of these workers are students. The government has asked so much of these workers over the last year; these workers are not only putting themselves at risk by working on the frontline – they are also full time students with coursework and deadlines they are struggling to keep up with. Many of these students need to work to pay their college fees and are not eligible for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. The very least the government could do is to acknowledge this in the vaccine roll out, considering how much these students have sacrificed in the last year.
“There has been arguably more conversation about students gathering in parks than there has been about mismanagement of vaccine doses.”
Not only have students suffered a lack of recognition for their work during the pandemic, we have been consistently vilified and blamed for every spike in Covid-19 cases. The rhetoric surrounding students gathering in parks has permeated coverage of Covid-19 cases in the last month. While obviously not every student has followed every restriction in the last year, the vast majority have stuck to guidelines. Not only is this blaming rhetoric unfounded, it also fails to mention the huge proportion of older people and families gathering in these green spaces. Of course, there have been incidents such as the street party in the University of Limerick, but that doesn’t represent the majority. There has been arguably more conversation about students gathering in parks than there has been about mismanagement of vaccine doses. It is also worth mentioning the recent incident at Coombe hospital where medical students were passed over for vaccination in order to vaccinate family members of the Master of the hospital, and the infamous incident at the Beacon hospital where several teachers from a private school which the children of the chief executive of the hospital attend, were given “spare” vaccine doses. These individuals are still in their positions at the time of writing. This does not exactly foster confidence in the management of the vaccine roll out. It is bad enough that student frontline workers are not being prioritized – it is far worse when you consider how students have been vilified in conjunction with this.
“It is hypocritical that young people have been villainized and blamed for spikes in cases, while powerful hospital executives vaccinate their families and teachers at their children’s private schools without major consequence.”
It is important to emphasize that students are not asking to be vaccinated before the most vulnerable in society. We are just asking that consideration be given to the fact that many of us have worked to keep essential services open over the last year, and have put ourselves and our families at risk by doing so. It is hypocritical that young people have been villainized and blamed for spikes in cases, while powerful hospital executives vaccinate their families and teachers at their children’s private schools without major consequence. We want to go back to college and all we are asking is that we be included in the narrative. Student frontline workers are at huge risk and that should be recognised in this roll out. We are all trying to get back to normal, but it is difficult to imagine how that will happen for us if we are not even included in the discussion.