By Orville Williams
As the education sector prepares to undergo its most ‘normal’ state of operations since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, more vaccination requirements will be implemented to ensure the safety of students and staff on school plants.
According to this week’s post-Cabinet report, after robust discussions involving Chief Medical Officer Dr Rhonda Sealey-Thomas and Education Director Clare Browne in Cabinet, “the CMO advised that, based on the present epidemiological situation in the country, all schools should return to face-to-face instruction from Tuesday, November 2”.
The report read further that “all students who are eligible to be vaccinated are required to do so within 14 days”.
Last week, the government disclosed that about 2,000 students have not yet been vaccinated, while more than 75 percent of those eligible have received a first shot. It noted too that the continued vaccination of students would depend on the receipt of more Pfizer vaccines, after the first batch received was exhausted.
Since then, the Health Ministry has received 5,000 Pfizer doses from St Lucia and another 21,000 doses are expected from the United States early next week.
With the authorities keen to avoid any outbreaks in schools and subsequent disruptions to the education sector, Information Minister Melford Nicholas reiterated that all eligible students must be vaccinated, adding that those who fail to adhere to the requirement will be barred from face-to-face learning.
“We are expecting all those eligible students to become vaccinated [as] the vaccines have now become available. The implication of course, is that if at the end of the 14-day period students are still unvaccinated and they do not have a medical or religious exemption, they will be required to be removed from the classrooms.
“It is the intention of the government that all teachers [and other] staff for all schools, both public and private, be fully vaccinated in order for them to have face-to-face contact.”
He also reminded that the legal framework has been adjusted to account for the vaccine requirement, which should leave students with no option than to comply for their safety and those around them.
Meanwhile, the Education Director has declared their readiness for the reopening of all schools, noting that preparation has been ongoing for the past weeks. He also stressed the need to maintain the safety of all involved and spoke on the logistical efforts that have been made in that regard.
“We have put in place substitute teachers to replace those unvaccinated teachers who remain on unpaid leave, so that schools can function properly…[and] we are still putting one or two persons in.
“There will be a shift system and perhaps a shift system that will continue well into the future, because the way we used to put students in a classroom didn’t quite allow even for three feet between the students.
“We can’t let our guard down. If we were to ever do that, then we will be back with Covid numbers sky-high. We have to make sure that things are in place so that when parents send their children to school, the children are relatively safe,” he explained.