The Education Minister insists the vaccine rollout priority list was changed because of strong new scientific evidence.
It comes as three major teachers unions are set to consider industrial action tomorrow if the Government doesn’t prioritise their members for vaccination.
Teachers had been among the professions due to get vaccinated before the vaccine was rolled out to the general adult population.
However, the rollout will now be based solely on age once the most vulnerable cohorts have been vaccinated.
Speaking at the INTO Congress this afternoon, Minister Norma Foley said this was done to follow the best public health advice.
She said: “Fundamentally, this recommendation has been driven by the fact that national and international evidence now confirms that age is the strongest predictor of whether a person who contracts COVID-19 will be admitted to hospital or ICU or die as a result of their infection.”
She pointed to NIAC advice suggesting older people aged 60-65 are 70 times more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to those under 35.
INTO General Secretary John Boyle, meanwhile, said the decision to change the priority list shows a ‘blatant disregard’ for teachers’ safety.
He said: "It’s simply not good enough, Minister.
“When our members returned to schools in Feb/March with infection levels still extremely high, your Government promised in writing that they would be in the first one third of the population vaccinated. Last week, your Government broke that promise.
"We feel there is a creative solution available. In the new group nine, the revised list gives priority to those who work in crowded settings. Surely spending nearly six hours a day in a small room with children from 25 or more families is a crowded setting?”
"A promise was broken"
Speaking on The Hard Shoulder, Labour's education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said some 'heat needs to be taken out of' the current situation.
He said: "I think the Government needs to reengage. I think what's a fair comment and other teachers' union is that a promise was made and a promise was broken.
"It's not just the promise was broken - it was done over the airwaves without any consultations."
Deputy Ó Ríordáin suggested NIAC's approach doesn't take into account the risk of catching COVID in different professions or settings.
He suggested: "There is room there for Government to work with teacher representatives, representatives of SNAs... there are other frontline workers such as guards or [those] in retail who have a case as well."