A concerned colleague messaged me with this question, “Persons are saying we will be dismissed if we don’t vaccinate, is this true?” Without hesitation, I responded with these words:
“That is absolutely NOT true. While the Ministry is encouraging teachers to be vaccinated, they are also quick to point out that it is not mandatory. Further, there is nothing in law or applicable regulations which states that failure to vaccinate is among grounds for dismissal. That would be discriminatory and unconstitutional. I have taken the first dose of the vaccine, NOT because I was forced to, but because, I believe in the efficacy of vaccines in general. I suggest that you inform yourself and make your choice accordingly.”
My colleague’s anxiety is just a reflection of the chaos, confusion and concerns engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation has become even more intense as the authorities promote vaccination for all eligible groups including teachers. Thanks to the virulence of the anti-vax movement, vaccine hesitance stands as a potentially insurmountable obstacle in the way of getting all teachers vaccinated.
The Ministry of Education is strongly encouraging all teachers to become vaccinated. Thus, they have joined with the Ministry of Health to undertake a series of consultations aimed at educating teachers about the process. Despite these efforts, a significant number of teachers continue to show hesitancy and even express outright rejection of vaccines and the vaccination initiatives on which the authorities have embarked. In the face of such opposition from teachers, how should the Ministry of Education respond?
According to Permanent Secretary Myccle Burke, “The primary concern of the Ministry of Education is for students and teachers to operate in a conducive environment, where all students are able to experience the benefits of quality education.” This is definitely not the case as hoped for through online teaching and learning. There have been significant deficiencies in the provision of “quality education” since the suspension of face to face instruction. Online engagement, despite all of its promises, can be termed as a failure in many respects. Hence, the cries for a “return to school” have reached crescendo levels in some quarters and the authorities are listening.
So, face to face classes are tentatively set to resume on April 12, 2021. And, as the Ministry has pointed out, this will be done with a “focus on health and safety”. Along with the already established COVID-19 protocols, vaccination has been adopted as one of the weapons in the fight against the pandemic. Accordingly, the Ministry of Health is set to “deploy teams to all schools to facilitate the vaccination of teachers”.
The Ministry of Education has since issued a memo which states that: “All teachers are encouraged to vaccinate in an effort to mitigate against the pandemic.” Now, the question is: What should the authorities do about teachers who refuse to vaccinate? Should they be threatened with dismissal? I cannot speak for the authorities. But, let me restate, in part, my response to my anxious colleague:
“…there is nothing in law or applicable regulations which states that failure to vaccinate is among grounds for dismissal. That would be discriminatory and unconstitutional. I have taken the first dose of the vaccine, NOT because I was forced to, but because, I believe in the efficacy of vaccines in general. I suggest that you inform yourself and make your choice accordingly.”
Teachers, don’t procrastinate, vaccinate!
Philbert J A John
March 13, 2021