Shortly after receiving a donation of over 300,000 Pfizer vaccines from the US yesterday morning, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh was optimistic local authorities may be able to start vaccinating students from as early as next week.
Addressing reporters at the Piarco International Airport after taking charge of the 305,370 vaccines around 8 am, Deyalsingh said once the vaccines are prepared for use, they must be utilised within 30 days.
This is the largest vaccine donation Trinidad and Tobago has received since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Deyalsingh said he was scheduled to meet with Ministry of Education officials yesterday to discuss how soon they can begin administering the vaccines to students.
“If all goes well, we want to start administering the vaccines next week. Early next week, but we have to pre-plan.”
He said alternative sites may have to be used for student vaccinations, in order to ensure the process goes smoothly.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley previously indicated that Pfizer vaccines would be reserved for students 12 years and older—as this is the only vaccine approved by the World Health Organisation for use in children—and will form part of the effort to reopen schools in September.
Apart from this secondary school cohort, which is estimated to be over 92,000, officials are also targeting first-year university students as part of the general vaccination programme.
Hours after the first tranche of Pfizer vaccines arrived in this country, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said ministry officials will be reaching out to school principals by today to determine how vaccineswill be administered to students 12 years and older.
Responding to WhatsApp messages yesterday morning seeking clarification on how soon the vaccination of the 81,000 public secondary school students will begin and just how it will be done, Gadsby-Dolly expressed joy that T&T’s youngsters now had a vaccination option available to them.
She said, “We are happy that our children in T&T now join the adults in having access to this opportunity.”
Assuring parents and guardians that the ministry will contact principals and the public by August 13 with details of the vaccination rollout for secondary school students, Gadsby-Dolly said, “The MoE is heartened by any measure of protection that can be offered to our children against COVID-19.”
It is not yet known how many secondary school students there are altogether, as the numbers provided by the ministry do not include students attending private secondary schools or private candidates who do not attend full-time classes.
Questioned on how the arrival of the Delta variant could impact plans to reopen schools, Gadsby-Dolly said, “Educational continuity is paramount, and though online teaching is the best arrangement that can be offered when physical school is not available, it is globally acknowledged that it cannot replace the face to face interaction that our young people so desperately need.”
Referring to other countries that have resumed physical classes, she added, “We have been tracking the many countries that have been able to restart physical school even in the presence of the Delta variant, and a critical layer of protection has been the vaccination of children 12 and over, along with high rates of vaccine uptake in the adult population.”
On Wednesday, the Health Ministry confirmed T&T had registered its first two cases of the Delta virus in returning unvaccinated nationals from Mexico and the US.
TTUTA encourages parents, students to get vaccinated
Meanwhile, the first vice president of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association Marlon Seales is renewing calls for teachers and parents to continue to get vaccinated as it could reduce the severity of the COVID-19 virus if contracted.
Seales was unable to say how many teachers have so far been vaccinated, as he explained that this information would not be reported to them but rather, the MOE as part of the record-keeping process.
“We will point the ministry to the OECS document which speaks to the closing of the gap and how the messaging is supposed to go to parents and students to encourage them to be part of the vaccination process.
He said while they are actively encouraging persons to come forward and be vaccinated, “TTUTA is not in support of mandatory vaccinations.”
Parents Group: Classroom return not feasible
Despite the good news surrounding the donation of the Pfizer vaccines and vaccination of students, one parent group is expressing concern with the move to return students to the physical classroom.
The Movement for Concerned Parents said, “We don’t see that being feasible at this point in time.”
Public Relations Officer Shamila Raheem said several factors needed to be carefully considered before a return to the classroom is possible including the health and safety of all students; space; supervision; coordination; mask-wearing; social distancing; and adequate sanitization supplies.