The Prime Minister has said the government will not hold its hand if it is faced with a decision to make covid19 vaccinations mandatory for children.
In a plea for all parents with children who are eligible to get them vaccinated, Dr Rowley said if herd immunity among the student population is not achieved in the coming weeks, the government will make the vaccine mandatory.
At the commissioning ceremony of the San Juan Government Primary School on Monday afternoon, he said, “Parents, get your children vaccinated.
"I've heard all kinds of excuses as to why this is not a given, that there will be a significant proportion of the population who will not co-operate with that.
“If at the end of the period that we set, which is mid September, we look back and see a population of vaccinated students which is really below herd immunity levels of 60 or 70 per cent, the government will have to act.
"So far, we have left it up to the responsibility of parents to be reasonable, to be understanding, to be caring, and to be responsible. And if it gets to that, the government will have no difficulty intervening on the children's behalf, as we have done with measles...
"We will not do this lightly. If it has to be done, we will do it.”
Schools have been closed since March 2020 as the country battled to contain the spread of covid19. Only last Wednesday, the country entered another phase of its national vaccination programme focused on children ages 12 to 18 getting the Pfizer vaccine. That vaccine is the only one currently approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for members of that age group.
Despite reports of an overwhelming response in the first week from students to get vaccinated, Rowley said he was disappointed with the high vaccine hesitancy rate among parents to get their children vaccinated. He said this kind of attitude affects the pace of return to face-to-face learning.
The existing law requires children entering preschool and primary schools to present a certificate of immunisation showing that the child has been vaccinated against communicable diseases: poliomyelitis, diphtheria, tetanus, yellow fever, measles.
According to the Public Health (Nursery Schools and Primary Schools Immunisation) Act 3 (2) “A Principal of any nursery school or primary school who admits any person to such school in contravention of subsection (1) or section 5 is liable on summary conviction to a fine of one thousand dollars.”
A frustrated Rowley said he is saddened by the constant need to dismiss misinformation that has now affected the vaccination of children.
“We have vaccines so, therefore, we are aiming to vaccinate a significant proportion of our children and bring them home to school and have a good scientific basis to say if these children are out to school for face to face learning their exposure to the damage, danger and death the virus promises is not great.
“We are doing everything possible to at least have a cohort of at least form four, five and six students come out.”
“Rest assured that this government will do what this government has to do, as it has done from January 2020 to now, we will do what we have to do to ensure that Trinidad and Tobago is at its best in responding to this virus, because we know if we do that we will all come through this together.”
He said parents who complained that the vaccine was not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the US had lost that excuse. On Monday, FDA announced the vaccine had full approval for ages 16 and up.
Mendoza: Parents won’t take “threats” lightly
Clarence Mendoza, head of the Concerned Parent/Teacher Association, told Newsday that such a move, as suggested by the Prime Minister, would put the country into a state of unrest.
He cautioned Rowley, “I don’t think any citizen will take any threats lightly coming from the government. And I say threat because that’s how it came across. I think our Prime Minister should have brought it across to our citizens in a more amicable manner, more reasonable and understanding instead of making it sound like he’s now taking over as a dictator.
"After those comments, our nation and parents will be very uneasy and that’s for those who took their children willingly, those sitting on the fence and those who are plain not going to get their children vaccinated.
“Putting such a threat out to our nation while students are struggling to put food on the table is an unfair tactic at this time from our Prime Minister.”
He said Rowley has to consider those with religious beliefs against taking the vaccine and those who are not properly informed.