Vaccines key to schools' return

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh - SUREASH CHOLAI
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh - SUREASH CHOLAI

THE ANNOUNCEMENT by the World Health Organization (WHO) of the approval of a covid19 vaccine for children between the ages of five and 11 last week raises the prospect of a resumption of in-person classes at long last for students in this age group.

On Monday, as the International Day of Education was marked all over the world, the fate of students in different countries varied dramatically.

In TT, students remain in limbo. Older secondary-school and tertiary-institution students have returned to the classroom. But younger students, who arguably have more to lose, remain limited to virtual learning.

In stark contrast, other countries have reached a stage where they have begun to roll back some of the strictures on education.

While cynics viewed it as a distraction from the unfolding “partygate” scandal, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week removed key restrictions, paving the way for momentous scenes of schoolchildren sitting unmasked in classrooms all over the country.

Some remain concerned about the prevalence of cases in the UK, but Mr Johnson was only able to make such a bold move on the strength of his country’s vaccine uptake. More than 90 per cent of that country has had a first dose.

With reports of children dying of covid19 sadly becoming more commonplace locally, the emergency use approval of a special formulation of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could play a key role in reducing pressures on the public health system as well as the overall outlook.

Part of the imperative for adults to get vaccinated has always been to better protect younger age groups – and anyone unable to take a vaccine – through herd immunity.

However, with this country’s vaccination rate still disappointingly low – owing to anti-vaxxer sentiment and a preference by some to rely on the use of drugs and treatments that are themselves riskier than any vaccine might ever be – the authorities will struggle to get the numbers to where they should be without clear and definitive measures.

On Saturday, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh announced his ministry will hold consultations with stakeholders on the possible use of the vaccine. The Chief Medical Officer on Monday convened a technical advisory group to study the WHO’s latest move.

The pivotal nature of these deliberations cannot be over-emphasised.

The classroom will never be the same, but the emergence of a vaccine for the very young has the potential to bring the education system the closest it has been to pre-pandemic life in years.

For this to become reality, there needs to be a clear timeframe for the consideration and possible roll-out of this vaccine.

Additionally, with so many adults still struggling with the idea of vaccination, the State must do its utmost to underline how and to what extent the education of our children is being hampered by vaccine hesitancy.


"Vaccines key to schools’ return"

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