GOVERNMENT’S decision to authorise vaccines available for students 12 years and over has been met with favour from the denominational school boards, which are encouraging parents to do their research and also support this move.
The Prime Minister said on Saturday if the US donates Pfizer vaccines to this country, these doses will be set aside specifically to vaccinate the secondary school population, starting from age 12.
The Pfizer vaccine has been used to vaccinate children aged 12-15 in the United States after that country's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Pfizer and BioNTech's request to allow their covid19 vaccine to be given to children on an emergency-use basis.
Newsday spoke to representatives from the Presbyterian, Hindu, Catholic and Muslim school boards on Sunday, who all indicated their support for secondary school students being vaccinated.
CEO of the Catholic Education Board of Management Sharon Mangroo said her board is yet to have a discussion since Government's announcement came only on Saturday, but she does not foresee a problem.
“In fact, it was requested of Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, during the meeting we had with her, for vaccinations for students 18 and above.
“I believe the minister has already taken action on that, so there are vaccines set aside for students who are older than 18, and that is something that could be actioned right away.
"Of course, once (vaccines) become available for students who are younger than that, it would make the school environment a lot safer. I think a lot of parents and teachers would feel safer about having their children vaccinated in order to return to school."
Pointing to the possibility of a return to physical school by September, should children get vaccinated, Mangroo was a bit cautious as she recalled Gadsby-Dolly saying, “We don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”
She said her board has a plan in place for such an event.
“We see the numbers going down, we just reopened the borders – we don’t know what the response to reopening the borders will be like. So we really can only take it day by day,” Mangroo said.
Imam Raffaic Mohamed, PRO of the Anjumam Sunnat ul Jamaat Association (ASJA), said reopening full school classes brings with it some challenges as the physical space in many classrooms does not permit for physical distancing.
“Most of the classrooms in the primary schools are separated by blackboards. The physical space is limited, with two and three children sharing a desk.
“It would be difficult to space them in the tight rooms and might require additional furniture.”
He said these are matters contained in a draft proposal sent to the ministry and were the subject of discussion when the denominational school boards met recently with Gadsby-Dolly.
The imam said he fully embraces the opportunity to vaccinate secondary school students as this may be key to controlling the spread of the virus – especially among the younger population. He said once his board receives proper information whenever the vaccines for the secondary school students becomes available, parental permission will be sought.
Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) secretary general Vijay Maharaj said the Maha Sabha's education board has already communicated with its48 principals, who are all eager to get on board as they have absolutely no difficulty with the offer to vaccinate students.
“Principals, teachers and even some parents (whom) I have communicated with are all for it.
“A child has to get vaccinated before entering school at age five, so I don’t see any difference in having secondary school students at age 12 getting a vaccine against a virus that has caused a global pandemic,” Maharaj said.
Chairman of the Presbyterian Secondary School Board of Education Vickram Ramlal said his board has advocated for students 18 and above to be given the opportunity to be vaccinated through the school system.
“With respect to 12 years and above, the decision will be up to the parents. If the vaccine being offered has been approved for the age group,12 and above, parental consent is key.
“The board supports the vaccination programme under way as one measure to deal with this pandemic,” Ramlal said.
Since last week, Presbyterian schools have been sending consent forms to parents of students to sign and return in anticipation of a school-based rollout round of vaccination.