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…GTU withdraws from all engagements with MoE over vaccination policy for teachers
The Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) has withdrawn from all engagements with the Ministry of Education, including the ongoing assessment of schools, over government’s vaccination policy for teachers ahead of the September 6 reopening of schools.
In a statement issued on Monday, the Education Ministry advised teachers who wish not be vaccinated against the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) will be required to submit a negative PCR test once a week. The test is to be done at an approved private facility.
“Teachers who do not report for duty will be marked absent,” the Education Ministry said while noting that the measures also apply to the ancillary staff of each school (cleaners, administrative and other support staff).
But the Education Ministry’s announcement, however, did not sit well with the Teachers’ Union. Hours after the announcement, GTU immediately withdrew its participation from the present assessment of schools and all other planned engagements with the Education Ministry until the release is retracted.
“Our teachers were good enough to teach NGSA, CSEC and CAPE, mark NGSA, attend workshops and even participate in school preparedness assessments. Our members have called on us to act now in their best interest. We are not opposed to vaccination, but it MUST be voluntary,” GTU said in a statement.
In urging teachers to get vaccinated, the Education Ministry advised that the Ministry of Health currently has the Astra Zeneca, Johnson and Johnson, Sinopharm and Sputnik V vaccines available for the adult population.
“If any of our teachers have questions on these vaccines or any related question, the Ministry of Education has solicited the assistance of three doctors to provide responses and they can be reached on telephone numbers: 650 – 2289 (Dr. Farah December), 650 – 2308 (Dr. Oneka Scott) and 650 – 2312 (Dr. Ertenisa Hamilton). This is to provide teachers with an opportunity to speak with medical professionals and have their concerns addressed,” the Education Ministry advised.
The Education Ministry said the decision to open schools on September 6, 2021 was based on feedback provided during polls, surveys and consultations conducted with stakeholders.
“This commitment remains resolute particularly because of the feedback provided during answers on polls and surveys and consultations with our stakeholders inclusive of teachers and parents. Parents, particularly, have been consistent in their calls for us to re-open schools for all levels and teachers have been clear to us that the efficacy of their engagements when not face to face, although just as intense, are dubious,” the Education Ministry said.
All schools were closed to face to face teaching in March 2020 when Guyana started recording positive COVID-19 cases. The Education Ministry said, at that time, there was no treatment or mechanism to stop the community spread of the virus, hence schools were closed to keep our students, teachers and support staff safe while simultaneously reducing the chances for community spread nationally.
“It has been over a year that Guyana and the world over have been dealing with COVID-19 and its effects. During that time, thankfully, scientists from across the globe have developed several vaccines that can be used to condition our immune systems to respond to the virus should someone become infected,” it said while noting that the vaccines prevent persons from becoming severely ill by the virus, hospitalised or even dying.
The vaccine also reduces the likelihood of an infected person spreading the virus and reduces the likelihood of a vaccinated person from becoming infected, the Ministry pointed out.
Once schools reopen, all teachers will be provided with face masks, face shields, sanitizing agents (environ) and spray bottles to assist in ensuring they are safe upon their return to the classroom.
“As the Ministry has said on previous occasions, the reopening will not be the same for every school. Based on the space and circumstances at each school individualized measures will be applied to ensure the safety of all. Schools will be ready for reopening and parents along with teachers will be informed of the individualized reopening measures for the respective schools in the coming days,” the Education Ministry further explained.
A similar statement was issued on Monday, the Education Ministry urged parents to have their children, 12 years and older, vaccinated once Pfizer becomes available in Guyana.
“Important in the process to reopen schools is the vaccination programme for pupils 12 years and over. Today, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States of America gave full approval for the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine. In May of this year, the FDA had expanded the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine to children 12 years and over,” the Ministry said.
It noted that on Tuesday, August 24, 2021, Guyana will receive its first shipment of Pfizer vaccines, a donation from the United States of America. The vaccine will be administered solely to the Guyanese population within that age group.
“Whilst vaccination of children will not be mandatory, we are urging parents to consider the benefits that this vaccine will provide to their children and consent to the vaccine being administered to their children,” the Education Ministry said.