Lower House paves the way for a Covid-19 vaccine mandate for eligible students

Education Minister Daryll Matthew
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By Carlena Knight

After Cabinet announced plans to adjust laws to mandate Covid-19 vaccines for children twelve years and older, parents could soon have to present a certificate from a registered medical practitioner or the Public Health Authorities indicating that their child has been vaccinated before he or she will be able to attend school.

This is according to the Education Act 2021 Amendment that was passed in the Lower House of Parliament on Tuesday.

Education Minister Daryll Matthew not only shared his support for the bill, but went on to say that it is paramount that students return to face-to-face learning in the quickest possible time, as remote learning is limiting their growth.

He added that that is even more evident with the latest CXC results.

According to Matthew, with the help of this new bill, it will “give government the opportunity to bring children back to school in a safe way.”

“Whereas two years ago or pre-Covid, we experienced about, I think seventy-four percent passes overall for the students sitting exams, that number has dropped to about sixty-nine percent. Particularly in Mathematics, the subject that we have always struggled with, the pass rate dropped from forty-five percent to about twenty-nine percent. It is clear that we need to get our children back into the classroom. Our children are being left behind. The children that are suffering most because of this pandemic and in remote learning are those at the very end of the socio-economic ladder. We cannot allow the gap to continue to widen between the haves and the have nots. We must do everything we can to ensure that our children are able to return to school, to return to the classroom, to return to learning, and this bit of legislation, this minor amendment will go certainly towards that,” Matthew said.

Health Minister Molwyn Joseph also threw his support behind the new legislation.

He not only encouraged parents to ensure that their children get vaccinated, but also chastised those unvaccinated teachers, especially in the primary level, who are refusing to be inoculated.

“Children between five and 11 years-old who do not yet have the opportunity to be vaccinated which means that any teacher who goes before such a class, and that teacher is not vaccinated, that teacher poses a risk to that child, and this is why we cannot open up the schools as we would like to. If we had the teachers in Antigua and Barbuda vaccinated, we would have a lot more contact time between the students in secondary and primary schools at this time,” Joseph added.

Presently, only fourth and fifth form students and those in grade six are allowed to have face-to-face learning for public schools. Several private schools have been given permission to operate as well, following the confirmation that all their staff have been vaccinated.

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