Opposition says school vaccine policy was detrimental to children

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By Carlena Knight

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Just a day after Cabinet announced that its controversial student vaccine mandate had been removed, Chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP) Gisele Isaac has chastised the government over its handling of the matter.

Speaking on Observer AM on Friday, Isaac accused the government of using children as a ploy to punish adults who were not getting vaccinated.

The mandate came into effect on November 11, barring students aged 12 and over who had not received a Covid-19 shot from entering the school compound.

That has now been lifted meaning all secondary school students – regardless of their vaccination status – may return to face-to-face classes on Monday.

The revision, according to Information Minister Melford Nicholas, was due to the fact that “more than 80 percent” of eligible students have now received at least one dose of a Covid jab, and also to reduce the burden on schools of balancing remote learning with face-to-face lessons.

But Isaac was adamant that the policy should never have been implemented in the first place, claiming that even though students were only affected for a short period of time, it was still detrimental to them.  

“These are children who need an education. These are children who have been disadvantaged for no fault of their own since last March and we believe losing at least a week of school is damaging to their educational health. It should not have been done,” Isaac said.

“I think the government made a really great misstep there by using children to punish parents who refuse to get vaccinated.

“We are talking about our future, their future. We keep talking about no child will be left behind but still the government was prepared to leave scores, maybe a couple hundred children behind, in their pursuit of a political vendetta against parents,” Isaac said.

Isaac’s comments come a day after the UPP accused the government of playing politics by announcing the state of emergency would be lifted before December 27, along with removing vaccine mandates for the public and private sector.

The UPP chairman praised her fellow party member Franz deFreitas who she claimed played a pivotal role in the government’s backtracking of the student vaccine mandate.

On Tuesday, deFreitas, UPP candidate for St John’s City South, organised a picket in protest over the rule.

“We are happy that the children are back in and we give kudos and respect to the people who made it happen; my brother Franz deFreitas and his efforts to mobilise parents and children, and to his colleagues that supported him, everybody who came out to make a statement to government that this is the wrong thing to do.

“I think this is the deciding factor in what the Cabinet agreed to on Wednesday,” Isaac added.

In an interview with Observer, deFreitas shared his satisfaction over the removal of the mandate and said it was an indication that when people stand up, governments acquiesce.

While the government has allowed for the return of unvaccinated students to the classroom, the decision comes with a stipulation. Unvaccinated students will have to present a negative antigen test and submit to Covid-19 testing every two weeks. Tests will be provided to public school students free of charge.

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