Disappointed by the low number of school children who took the vaccine over the past month, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced today that as of October 1, only fully vaccinated children will be allowed face-to-face learning in their schools.
The children being given the face-to-face option are in the fourth, fifth and sixth forms of all secondary schools.
Schoolchildren have not been to school since September 2020.
Children who are not vaccinated, or not fully vaccinated (both doses), will continue to get their education through a means that the Ministry of Education will announce soon.
As of today, only 25 percent of the school children aged 12 to 18 had taken the Pfizer vaccine which had been set aside specifically for them.
The hope was that more parents would have taken up the offer and got their children vaccinated, which would have allowed for face to face school to resume in September.
The new school term begins September 6, and will be fully online, a situation that has existed for more than a year.
Some 305,370 doses of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine was a gift from the United States, and it expires in November.
As a result, the vaccines will now also be given to health care workers and teachers, before the wider public is allowed to access it.
Regarding the means by which unvaccinated children would access learning as from October 1, Rowley said that this was for the Ministry of Education to work out.
But he warned: “To parents and guardians, online lessons do not a substitute make for education. It is largely private business for profit. I’m cautioning parents that this is not a substitute for your children going to school”.
In fact, he said “government will be monitoring this situation very closely and take appropriate action to ensure that the pandemic does not establish new policies to the detriment of parents and children”.
When the vaccinations of children began, there was an average of 3,000 being administered the vaccine every day, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said. But this had dropped to less than 1,000 a day.
Somewhere along the way, Rowley said, the conversation regarding the vaccination of children had morphed into one of parents defending the right for their children not to be vaccinated.
As a result, he said, 75 per cent of the children between 12 and 18 who could have been protected, are not.
He said that with the new plan for face-to-face from October 1, he expected more children to get the vaccine in time for this date. The Pfizer doses are administered two weeks apart, and a person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose in given.
The prime minister said that the country was also dangerously exposed because of the still low overall number of adults accepting the vaccine, and the slowing in the number of adults showing up to be vaccinated also there were more than enough vaccines now available.
Of the 108,000 one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine available for use, about a thousand have been administered, with only 35 accepting it in Tobago.
As a result, it was announced that the J&J vaccine would be made available through the Ministry’s mobile unit at large construction sites, malls, groceries and markets.
Rowley said the figure of about 500,000 people accepting the vaccine as of today, sounded good but it was far from the 900,000 fully vaccinated people the country needed in order for the vaccination programme to be considered a success.
He referenced the US State of Mississippi where only 36 per cent of the population was fully vaccinated and where the health care system was collapsing because of the number of severely ill Covid-19 cases.
“What then can we expect in Trinidad and Tobago? Can we expect to perform better than that population? We are exposed, very exposed. We are dangerously exposed, but we can do something about it by improving the level of vaccination in the country.”
Rowley said that with the Delta variant lurking, there was a very real possibility that it could spread in a largely unvaccinated population.
He said that there was also the possibly of a mutant (variant) developing in Trinidad and Tobago as a result.