All teachers and school staff should be vaccinated in February half-term, Keir Starmer urges

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is appearing at PMQs remotely after being told to self-isolate following contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus. Credit: Parliament/Jessica Taylor

All teachers should be vaccinated for coronavirus in the February half-term holidays to ensure a reopening of schools is as safe as possible, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

The Labour leader implored the prime minister to make teachers a vaccine priority at PMQs, saying all school staff should be put in line for a jab as soon as those in the top four most vulnerable groups have been inoculated.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson failed to directly answer Sir Keir's appeal, instead saying all vulnerable teachers will be vaccinated "as a matter of priority".

The Labour leader, appearing remotely at PMQs after being told to self-isolate, repeatedly branded Mr Johnson "slow" in his response to the pandemic and questioned why the coronavirus death tally for the UK has passed 100,000.

He told MPs: "The prime minister is going to have answer that question one day, and he should have the decency to answer it today."

Mr Johnson replied: "When you have a new virus, and indeed when you have a new variant of that virus of the kind that we have in this country, when you have the dilemmas as hard and as heavy as this government has had to face over the last year, I must tell (Sir Keir) there are no easy answers - perpetual lockdown is no answer."

He said 6.9 million people had received their first dose of the vaccine, adding: "I hope very much to be, in the next few weeks, to be setting out in much more detail how this country can exit now from the pandemic."

On schools, Sir Keir asked: "Does he agree with me that once the first four categories of the most vulnerable have been vaccinated by mid-February, he should bring forward the vaccination of key workers and use the window of the February half-term to vaccinate all teachers and all school staff?"

Under current plans, the NHS will vaccinate everyone in the top nine most vulnerable groups before the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JVCI) publishes another priority list of those who should be next in line for a vaccine.

The government hopes to vaccinate the top four most vulnerable groups by mid-February, with a hope it will allow a safer reopening of schools when the half-term holidays end two weeks later.

After that, attention will turn to vaccinating the rest of the most vulnerable, with the government aiming to have inoculated all those in the top nine groups by April.

There will then be a rush to vaccinate the rest of the population - under current plans teachers and other critical workers such as police may not receive a jab until April.

Mr Johnson replied: "Of course, it follows that all teachers in JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) groups one to nine will be vaccinated as a matter of priority. "

Watch PMQs in full:

He added: "I pay to tribute, by the way, to the huge efforts parents are making across the country struggling to educate their kids, I know how deeply frustrating it is, the extra burden that we have placed on families by closing the schools.

"And no-one has worked harder than my right honourable friend the Education Secretary to keep schools open. We all want to open schools."

Sir Keir also urged the government to ensure every child can learn from home, as he raised concerns over a lack of laptops and internet access.

Mr Johnson said he "fully understands" the "frustration" of families across the country, before defending the Government's record on providing 1.3 million laptops to pupils.

Here is the current list of priority groups for vaccination:

1 - Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers (800,000 people) 2 - Those aged 80 and over and frontline health and social care workers (a total of 7.1 million people in this group: 3.3m over 80s, 2.4m healthcare workers, 1.4m social care workers) 3 - Those aged 75 and over (2.3 million) 4 - Those aged 70 and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (3.2 million) 5 - Those aged 65 and over (2.9 million) 6 - All individuals aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality (7.3 million) 7 - Those aged 60 and over (1.8 million) 8 - Those aged 55 years and over (2.4 million) 9 - Those aged 50 years of age and over (2.8 million)