Home Letters Vaccinating children is routine, widely accepted
A seemingly interminable battle is being waged, on whether or not vaccination against the COVID-19 is essential. To this debate, I have a few things to say. This is based on what I observed, at length, for hours, at the MovieTowne tarmac, Sunday, August 29, 2021.
My time there was necessary, as I, along with my wife, had to take my two children for the jab, in order to facilitate their re-attending face-to-face classes at their school (both going to the same private institution). I mean what I saw was nothing short of personal sacrifice, commitment and justifiable concern. Of course, all involved have to be commended, and I heap special kudos on the many volunteers.
In this regard of recognising and honouring the deserted, I pay homage to the Minister of Health, Dr Frank Anthony, and his colleague, Minster of Education Priya Manickchand. I mean leaders are supposed to designate, but these two were on the ground, and had been for hours, and had to stay on for hours, until all was said and done. They kept multi-tasking to such an extent, that a few times, they refreshed themselves with water without “taking a five”.
Dr Anthony’s shirt and Minister Manickchand’s garb looked frazzled. By three in the afternoon, they and their team were fighting fatigue, but there was no evincing of impatience and ill-mannerism from any of the crew, and to top it all, both Ministers exuded a fraternising disposition.
Now that cannot be for political gains, and that is why I penned this missive. I am sure that both of them, like the President, Dr Irfaan Ali, have bigger concerns than mere publicity or personal and party mileage. By the way, the event was worth live coverage, but sadly, I did not notice any radio nor television crew.
Readers and Guyanese at large, I refer all to a “Save the Children” global survey of children and their families to ascertain the impact of COVID-19 on the access to health, education, livelihoods and protection, and to collect the views of children. It is to date the most complete and exhaustive survey conducted on children and their families since the outbreak of the pandemic. The research was carried out with families participating in “Save the Children” programmes in seven countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. So, we can assume, with a modicum of adjustment, that the survey applies to Guyana. In terms of Education (as I want to zero in on this aspect), the following stark reality was discovered.
Seven out of 10 children considered that they learned little during the pandemic; five out of 10 children required school materials; four out of 10 children indicated that they needed counselling; three out of 10 children mentioned that the teacher checked homework fewer than once a week; three out of 10 children did not know if they will return to school; and four out of 10 adults did not know if their children will go back to school.
In this vein, “Save the Children” started calling on governments, donors, multilateral organisations and all other stakeholders, to work together and take action to ensure that: there be a safe return to school whenever possible, fully funded and with specific measures to ensure that the most vulnerable children can return to school; distance learning programmes be effective, flexible and inclusive, that include quality learning resources, including printed school materials, focusing on reaching the most vulnerable children; during distance learning times, children continue to have at their disposal essential services related to school, such as school meals, psychosocial support, and referral systems for cases of child protection, with a focus on gender-based violence; education be prioritised when it comes to relaxing or reintroducing restrictions to control the pandemic; and parents and caregivers receive support on learning at home and mental health and psychosocial support, to allow parents and caregivers to increase interaction and play with children.
Overall, it is a herculean task. That is why I want to know what is really wrong with us. At the personal level, I am still baffled regarding why we are having all of this unnecessary fuss, for something that has national and global benefits, and which will soon become inevitable.
Let me remind people that vaccinating children is routine and widely accepted. I list things like measles, mumps, polio, diphtheria, rotavirus, multiple strains of meningitis, whooping cough etc and the list goes on. And mind you, all this starts from just a few weeks old. So why the big resistance about COVID-19? Specifically, concerning children, in the US, they are already immunising children between 12 and 15, and the next phase is to go even younger come next year.
It seems as though we are not getting it. People must understand that there is a huge potential benefit to vaccinating children, as it could save other people’s lives. In fact, this is an approach that is already used for flu. In England, children aged from two to around 12, are given the nasal spray, largely to protect their grandparent. So doing the same with COVID vaccines will indeed help contribute to herd immunity, that is, where we reach the point at which the virus struggles to spread, because so many people are protected.
Now here in Guyana, the majority of parents are calling for schools to be reopened, and indeed, the Ministry of Education has rightly restated its intention to reopen schools as soon as it is safe to do so, that is, it must take into account the vaccination of all involved, teachers and students, and that is why we must push on with the vaccination programme for pupils 12 years and over. This is the way forward. I am happy that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States of America has already given full approval for the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine for children 12 years and over. And even though vaccination of children will not be mandatory, I think that we should really think deep and long. The benefits that this vaccine will provide to our children cannot be ignored nor denied.
Let me remind those who are against vaccination of the populace and especially the children, that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ensuing lockdowns continue to wreak havoc on learning at home. In another study, the Netherlands now, it was shown that the impact of school closures on students’ learning, clearly demanded that vaccination was and is indeed necessary.
It was found that even there, and with just a short lockdown, equitable school funding, and world-leading rates of broadband access, that despite favourable conditions, the students made little or no progress while learning from home, and learning loss was most pronounced among students from disadvantaged homes. What this means? We have to inoculate the entire fraternity for both health and educational goodwill.