More questions than answersFriday, November 26, 2021
This week's arrival of 200,000 doses of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine from the People's Republic of China reinforces the Government's position that vaccine shortage is no longer a problem.
In the handover ceremony, Prime Minister Andrew Holness reiterated the numerous calls for Jamaicans to get vaccinated to “protect themselves and others, as we adjust to living with the virus”.
The problem is that many people have seemingly stopped listening. While upwards of one million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered, hesitancy remains a major challenge.
Available evidence suggesting that countries with high levels of vaccination have much lower levels of hospitalisation, serious illness, and death as a consequence of COVID-19 is apparently not having the effect logic would suggest it should.
In yesterday's lead story in this newspaper, Mr Lawrence Rowe, principal of Belair High School, highlighted the extent of the problem in the education sector as a direct result of vaccine hesitancy among teachers and parents.
Only 58 per cent of teachers at Belair High had been vaccinated and furthermore some parents were preventing their children from accepting the vaccine.
The Pfizer vaccine is recommended for high school-age children 12 years and over.
Said Mr Rowe: “…I have had my students reach out to me seeking assistance to become vaccinated, but their parents are not giving the permission and, based on the law, they have to give permission for those students below the age of 18”.
We are told that up to this week only 38 per cent of students at Belair High had been vaccinated. At Bishop Gibson High, also in Mandeville, the figure was 18 per cent.
Reports suggest that such low vaccination rates for high school students are commonplace across the country.
Will all of that have implications for the reopening of high schools which have been mostly closed to face-to-face classes since March of last year?
Thus far, vaccines are not approved for primary school-aged children below 12 years old, but some primary schools with lower numbers recently reopened for face-to-face in a limited, rotational manner. The hope is that more, if not all primary schools, will reopen in similarly limited fashion in January.
Regarding high schools, the Government said some time ago that it was aiming for 65 per cent inoculation among students prior to full-scale reopening. We are left to wonder if that still holds, based on the prime minister's recent assertion — as he announced relaxation of COVID-19 containment measures — that the time for lockdowns caused by the virus has passed.
The prime minister said that, “Just to be clear, we are not going to shut down again…” He noted that since the recent limited reopening of some primary schools “we have seen cases reported of possible exposure to COVID-19. We tell them to sanitise, clean up, isolate the child, but we are not going to close the schools again. It is what it is…”
But what of the expected fourth wave of novel coronavirus infections which the Government and health experts have suggested is likely to come after Christmas? Could it weaken the Government's resolve where schools are concerned? Presumably much will depend on the severity of another surge in COVID-19 infections.
It's an awful thought that can't be ignored.