(CMC) — The Trinidad and Tobago government Saturday outlined a two-tier system of education for secondary school children as it expressed disappointment that only 25 per cent of students had been vaccinated ahead of the virtual reopening of schools on September 6.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, speaking at a weekly news conference updating the population on the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19), said that the government will allow face-to-face classes for students from October 1.
“But that option is going to be offered to vaccinated children only. And those children who are not vaccinated will get their education at this time by an alternative means which the Ministry of Education will outline in the near future.
“It means we are asking that those students be vaccinated fully, meaning first dose, second dose and two weeks to develop their immunity and today I am asking that we offer these children face-to-face education with the relevant teaching and teachers from the first of October.”
Rowley told reporters that the intention is to finish the vaccination programme of children by September 14 and that all the school children authorised by the parents to get vaccinated in order to participate in face-to-face learning should be fully vaccinated.
“It means that this figure of 25 per cent should rise considerably between now and the 14th of September and the other children who have not been positioned for that, arrangements will be made, the school term starts virtually for everybody on the sixth of September. So, schools are going to start on September 6, but for those who are vaccinated there will be the option of face-to-face classes because they are in that condition.”
Rowley said that it appears that the opposition to students being vaccinated “has now morphed into defending their rights and not being vaccinated”.
“Whatever that conversation is the final sentence in it is that 75 per cent of children who can be protected by vaccination are not being protected and it is not because you don’t have the vaccine and it is not because we have been appealing and imploring parents to do that for more reasons than one.”
The Trinidad and Tobago government had said it would use the donation of more than 300,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on school children between the ages 12 to 16 years as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Rowley said that the failure to take advantage of the vaccines available is not only confined to students, but the national population where various choices are available in terms of vaccines.
He said while Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh talks about “wonderful and encourages with encouraging words, what is the bottom line?”
“The bottom line is that we have 800,000 people in this country who can be vaccinated but who are not. So, the figure of 500,000 sounds like a lot that we have done, and we have done a lot, and we can congratulate all those who have taken part in getting half a million people in this country getting their first dose and a significant position, their second dose, that’s the situation.
“But when we look at the glass being half empty, we have 800,000 people of whom half of them are required to be vaccinated to bring that figure to 900,000 of the 1.4 million of us and only then can we say that the vaccination programme is in fact successful and is expected to be clinically useful,” Rowley said.
He said also that the government would be clamping down on those private businesses and individuals offering online lessons to students.
“I am not going into too much details and I am speaking here to parents and guardians. Online lessons are not a substitute for education… It is largely private business for profit and I am cautioning parents that this is not a substitute to your children going to school.
“In fact, the government will be monitoring this situation very closely and will take appropriate steps as required to ensure that the pandemic does not establish new policies to the detriment of parents and children.”
Rowley said that despite only 36 per cent of the population being vaccinated, the government is monitoring the situation as it pertains to reopening the other sectors of the economy and “is currently evaluating the removal of the last restrictions…on the retail trade where large numbers of people were allowed to continue their daily lives”.
“But we will not get a clear figure as to the outcome of that removal of that restriction until another week which would be the end of the 14- day cycle to see what effect that had on the population’s infection instances and I would say today if at the end of that week when we finish assessing the retail trade coming out we are still in the same similar kind of situation we are in today…we are hoping then to give some relief to the national population with respect to the participation in religious .”
“So, we are hoping in short to open back up prayer services…where you worship with some restrictions on the numbers, more than likely,” Rowley added.