If it turns out that school-age students aren’t vaccinated in significant numbers due to the “conspiracy theories” around or worried parents, Government may very well have to have a parallel education system with virtual as well as face-to-face classrooms.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday gave this as an example of possibilities Government may have to explore if vaccinations, where students are concerned, do not reach the levels they are hoping for.
He made the comment during a conversation with former UNC MP Bhoe Tewarie, during Tewarie’s “Brighter Morning with Bhoe” programme on MCTV, which was also carried on TTT.
Rowley felt the amount of vaccine hesitancy currently noted in T&T was due to people who felt the virus wasn’t as serious as Government was saying. He said a “significant cacophony of voices” felt it was being overplayed for some ulterior motive by Government and others felt they had to “put their finger in the wound to feel.” He said T&T had expected the worst and some believed they could get by without respecting the threat of the virus.
The Prime Minister said he was “really concerned and worried” that it doesn’t take a worsening of T&T’s situation for the sector of uncooperative citizens to understand the situation and vaccinate.
He said Government was trying to convince people that it wasn’t just them in the situation but it was a “national imperative,” where T&T was “like a piece of cloth” and “every fibre has to be unbroken for the cloth not to have a hole.” He said he hoped Government could encourage people that response to the deadly virus meant strengthening themselves so if they became ill, they could fight it.
Queried about possible mandatory vaccination for public sector workers at some time, since people have to return to work, Rowley said Government has a role and responsibility in all these matters and if it came to a point where the reasonable decision is Government intervention to ensure T&T gets the best of its responses, Government would be guilty of dereliction of duty if it didn’t act.
“But we’re encouraging the population to do these things without Government having to pummel you into shape to do it,” Rowley said.
For example, he said if it turns out significant numbers of the student-age population aren’t vaccinated due to the conspiracy theories around and worried parents, Government may very well have to run two - parallel - systems of school, with one virtual and another, face-to-face classrooms and parents will have their choice.
“But clearly, Government has to preserve the population the best way, as best advised by the experts who know this COVID threat,” he said.
Rowley said he wouldn’t say anything on the public sector just yet but would await what the voluntary drive produced. But he said if Government had to take a further decision they would take it, “... If it turns out the population is at greater risk by not doing what they’re required to do, then there will be a role for Government,” the PM said.
Government was initially looking at allowing students from forms four to six the opportunity to return to in-person classes. However, Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly has now said online classes will continue at the start of the new academic year next week until they are able to assess vaccination levels before going forward.
He said if there’s a high level of vaccination in any segment of a population, the science may show there may not be overly high risk. But if there’s low vaccination level and a high level of unvaccinated, the science will show there is a higher risk and action would be needed to change that.
“For example, in schools, if there’s a high level of vaccinated students one could tolerate a small level of unvaccinated teachers. But if there’s high unvaccinated levels on all sides - teachers and students - then you’re asking for trouble.”
He said he’s getting reports that vaccination was happening to a large extent among Forms 4-6. When schools reopen, he said Government will have to go to the schools to do further encouragement. With some choosing vaccinations and others not - still a free choice - and preferring homeschooling, he said Government was working the situation out without too much force and disruption.
“Let’s see what turns out. But if Government has to act, the Government will act,’’ he said.
Rowley said the Delta variant will also surely cause a problem for T&T. He noted that in the UK, high vaccination levels had helped that country cope with high Delta cases, preventing high death and hospitalisation rates. He called on the public not to waste the investment made via the lockdown by allowing T&T to be overcome by increased infections.
The PM also reiterated why the State of Emergency extension was needed and admitted Government members were missing the “freedom” as well as the public. But while this was being taken away, he added, “We’re giving you valuable opportunity to survive a pandemic.”
He said he wasn’t surprised at the Opposition abstaining from the vote on the extension, as they’d made their overriding position clear they weren’t supporting anything Government brings to Parliament. He noted heavy Opposition investment in urging the public not to co-operate with the SoE and to demonstrate outside Parliament on Wednesday.