There are rumblings amongst teachers in St Vincent and the Grenadines over the issue of vaccinations and the safety of returning to school while active COVID-19 cases remain high on the island.
The Executive of the SVG Teachers Union says its membership has expressed concern about the possibility of being forced to take a COVID-19 vaccine.
Acting first vice-president of the SVG Teachers’ Union, Vanrick Williams, says there are members of the teaching fraternity and teacher’s union that are taking the jab. There are also those who will encourage others to take the jab, while some are waiting for the Russian vaccine Sputnik V, which was taken by top-ranking officials.
However, Williams says there are teachers who do not want to take the vaccine for various purposes and are still doing research to make up their minds.
Professional Development Sessions and consultations have been planned during the period March 17 to 19 in schools, which teachers have been asked to attend and where Health teams will be present to provide the vaccine.
Williams says its general membership has a problem with the way the authorities are going about the vaccination process: “Teachers feel intimidated like they are being bullied and pressured into taking the vaccine and teachers are human beings as well.
If you start to force people against their will to do certain things, they will begin to feel it is a modern form of slavery.”
He says the membership is aware that the vaccine is not mandatory but fears it is only a matter of time before they are forced to do so.
Williams says teachers will not be bullied and the authorities should give teachers both the pros and cons of taking the vaccine.
The union’s acting first vice president made it clear that teachers have no problem with the conditional date set for the re-opening of schools on April 12, however, there are certain protocols that must be in place to ensure the health and safety of teachers and students.
The union says schools must be properly sanitised and there must be adequate water, liquid soap, hand sanitisers and hand washing stations.
St Vincent and the Grenadines currently has over 500 active COVID-19 cases, which has a number of teachers concerned. The SVG Teachers Union says these concerns include:
Whether students will be able to realistically physically distance themselves
Whether the transportation system for students will be reliable given the decreased number of passengers minibus are allowed to carry
Whether background checks will be carried out on students to find out if they are coming from homes with infected persons
Whether all students will be tested for COVID-19 (teachers will subject themselves to be tested)
Williams says all of these concerns stem from the situation where the Mental Health Rehabilitation Centre was compromised with COVID-19. He says the teachers do not want educational institutions to be compromised as well.
Questions have been also raised as to why the Professional Development Sessions and Consultations carded for three days, cannot be done online like everything else.
There is a proposal that teachers continue with the online teaching for the next two weeks and that the consultations be pushed back into the school vacation period.
The union says there is no certainty that the authorities will act on this, however, teachers were reminded that under the labour laws it is okay to take two unofficial sick days without producing a medical certificate, but on the third day at home, one must be submitted.