Teachers among list of frontline workers
Hundreds of teachers have yet to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves announced this week that all workers in schools will be added to groups classified as ‘frontline workers’ and therefore will face a choice to get vaccinated or get a different job.
“On the basis of the advice which we have received, including advice from the medical authorities, those on the Health Services Subcommittee of NEMO (the National Emergency Management Organisation) – it was decided to put in these regulations to include teachers as front-line workers,” the Prime Minister explained mere hours after Cabinet met on Wednesday, September 29. He was at the time appearing as a guest on the program ‘Round Table Talk’.
He clarified that,“Teachers and those who are working at these schools, the cooks and so on, everybody who comes in touch with children, students.”
In listing the “basic” reasons for the move, the Prime Minister highlighted the current uptick in Covid-19 positive cases, and the high rates of positivity (recorded as a percentage from the number of samples being submitted to the lab for testing).
“…Just over a week ago there were 12 deaths for a long time; in just over a week we have had eight, almost one a day. Now, that’s serious business, and the positivity rate has moved from under 5%, some cases going down to as low as below one percent, to now it’s galloping in the teens…” he commented.
Secondly, he cited that a number of children have contracted the virus. At a press conference held by the Ministry of Health last Thursday, the statistics showed that of the cases between September 14 and 21 there have been five children aged between zero and four years; 55 children between five and 14 years, and 87 teens/young adults between 15 and 24 years contracting the respiratory virus.
“…Parents and teachers have been calling, and the general public, for us to include teachers. And on balance it was decided yes, given what has taken place…” they should be included, the Prime Minister stated.
Amendments to the Public Health Act were passed in the House of Assembly on August 6, requiring that frontline workers be vaccinated in the public interest, with some exemptions based on religious or health grounds.
The accompanying Public Health (Public Bodies Special Measures) Rules 2021 were then drafted, and published on August 27 for public consultation.
Previously, those listed as frontline workers according to the draft Rules were: a health care employee, a member of the Royal Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force, prison staff within the meaning of the Prisons Act, Cap. 393; and an employee appointed to perform duties at an airport or seaport including a Customs Officer and Immigration Officer.
But now, workers at schools are set to join this list.
In the rules, the final draft which will likely be published next Friday, October 8, states that: subject to exemptions, frontline workers, “must be vaccinated against the coronavirus-disease 2019 – 1) with at least the first dose in the case of a vaccine that requires two doses; and by the period to be notified in writing to the frontline employee by his employer on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer.”
The Prime Minister said that he asked for the Teachers’ Union, and the Police Welfare Association to be consulted, although they never made submissions to the draft rules by the September 8 deadline.
“…I thought that as organised entities within the public service,” they should get to express their views, he said.
“…Their views may not be any different than those of the Public Service Union (which eventually made a submission), but it’s important still to meet them, and one meeting is taking place tomorrow (Thursday) I’m advised, and another on Friday,” Gonsalves revealed on the programme.
The rules will take effect one month after publication.
“In other words you give persons enough time again, to go and take your vaccine. If you want to get a medical exemption, you can do it in accordance with the regulation, which is one of the doctors approved by [the] Medical Officer of Health and you have a reason why you can’t take it…” the Prime Minister said.
“…When it becomes operational in a month’s time, you have a choice whether to take the vaccine and be at work within that period, or you get a different job; and you would not be able to come to work in these frontline jobs, unless you take the vaccine. You would have made a choice,” he stated.
If a suitable vacancy exists for those frontline workers with medical or religious exemptions, they may be transferred to that position. However, this does not apply for those workers who aren’t exempted.
The Prime Minister revealed that generally they have been seeing an uptick in vaccinations, including of frontline workers, “but not as fast as I would like to see.”