Teachers vie to be first Covid-19 vaccine receivers

Monday, January 4th, 2021 00:00 |
Covid test. Illustration/Michael Mosote

 Michael Mosota

With the government announcing that teachers will be among the priority groups for Covid-19 vaccinations this month, a sigh of relief reins among the teaching fraternity.

According to data released in Novem-ber by the Kenya Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) the union shows that at least 35 teachers and 17 students have tested positive for Covid-19, with at least two deaths.

From Coast to Western Kenya, a number of schools, teachers and students are bearing the brunt of the effects the virus.

Medical bills, lost working hours and expense of students and staff isolation are glaring hazards of the disease to learners and teachers.

Reopening of schools for all students starting today presents an even bigger challenge as social distance and other preventive measures are being put to test.

“Teachers will be at a greater risk with higher numbers of students and small spaces for social distancing.

We have been able to manage the smaller numbers of students who have been in school for the last two months,” observed Jennifer Kioko, a Kajiado county-based secondary school teacher.

Kenya has over 300,000 teachers across all ages. Researchers note that persons over 50 years and those with pre-existing health conditions are at an increased risk as they are likely to develop complications once affected.

With partial resumption of classes last year for Grade Four, Class Eight and Form Four learners, schools have been experimenting on how to handle students during the pandemic.

Compared to teachers and non-teaching staff, World Health Organisation guidelines for reopening of schools indicate that the risk among students is low.

Low student infection

Covid-19 appears to have a limited direct burden on children’s health, ac-counting for about 8.5 per cent of report-ed cases globally, and very few deaths.

“It is worrying that most students are asymptomatic for Covid-19 and will easily spread the virus to their fellow students and teachers they are interacting with.

Elderly teachers and those with health issues are distraught,” noted James Ma-lot, a 55-year-old teacher, who has a pre-existing health condition.

WHO suggests that most infections in children were acquired at home with those under 10 years less susceptible and less infectious than older ones.

More outbreaks are reported in secondary schools compared to primary schoolsIn school outbreaks, the virus is likely to be introduced by adult personnel with staff-to-staff transmission being common.

Teachers unions have been concerned over the risk their members continue to face.

“Going forward, we need proper communication from the employer on the issue of teachers with health conditions and those above 55 years old,” said Isaac Masenge a Kuppet official.

The United Nations Education Science and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) and its partners has called upon governments to prioritise teachers and school personnel in their vaccination efforts.

“Reopening of education institutions  safely and keeping them open as long as possible is imperative,” said Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General.

“We see positive developments regarding vaccination, we believe that teachers and education support personnel must be considered as a priority group,” observed Azoulay.

Over 100 million teachers and school personnel were impacted by educational disruptions due to the Covid-19 crisis around the world.

Positive vaccine development

Latest data from Unesco shows that schools remain fully open in 27 countries affecting over 300 million learners.

Closures have a negative impact on students’ learning, safety and well-being, affecting the most vulnerable students the hardest.

“When schools closed, teachers remained on the frontline,” said Azoulay. adding, “They reinvented the way we teach and the way we learn.

They supported their students too often with no training or ad-equate tools.”

A global education meeting convened by Unesco in October 2020, heads of state and ministers committed to support all teachers and education personnel as frontline workers and to prioritise the health and safety of students and educators.

This is even as latest WHO analysis indicates that “Africa is far from ready” to embark on the mass vaccination noting that the continent is just 33 per cent ready immunisation drive, a figure far below the desired benchmark of 80 per cent.

The international health agency’s analysis of Covid-19 immunisation readiness sourced from data from 40 countries on the continent revealed only 24 per cent of the countries have adequate plans for re-sources and funding to roll out a mass vaccination.

Only 49 per cent of the countries have identified the priority populations for vaccination and have plans in place to reach them, while only 17 per cent have data collection and monitoring tools ready.

The analysis also shows only 44 per cent of African countries have coordination structures in place for the adequate distribution of the vaccines.

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