Should teachers be prioritized for Vaccination?

Hyderabad, Telangana : The first thing on top of mind for everybody when the pandemic hit the world was a vaccine. Now that vaccines are out and the frontline workers were vaccinated on a priority basis, then followed by 45 plus aged is taken up. The third phase of vaccination is to vaccinate all above 18 plus years of age. Now a debate surfaced. The debate is Journalists need to be vaccinated on a priority basis. The teachers need to be vaccinated. Children must be vaccinated.  And so on so forth.

Though there was a lot of vaccine hesitation in the beginning, thanks to the second wave and in the backdrop of the impending third wave many got inoculated and more are waiting. While there are hundreds waiting for the vaccine, an equal number is still reluctant to take the vaccine, for reasons best known to everybody. Among the health workers themselves, quite a large number of people are still hesitating to go for it.

The new debate that keeps surfacing on and off is should teachers get Covid-19 vaccination on priority too?. This article will focus only on this group.

Why not asks a WhatApp forward?. We spoke to a cross section of the people to understand the mood.

In December 2020, UNESCO and Education International (EI), the global federation of education unions, issued a call to governments and the international community to consider the vital importance of vaccinating teachers and school personnel says Dr. Ankam, a former teacher and a founder of Tutors Pride, an online tutor’s resource.

Vaccinating teachers and childcare staff will help protect them from the virus and allow them to teach in person without any fear says Ghannarapu Ashok, a Government Teacher.

About 19 countries have made teachers a priority group and vaccinated majority of them. The U.S. is one of 20 nations, listed as putting teachers in the second priority group. This was achieved in the US after lobbying teaching unions for the same. This has helped to persuade President Joe Biden, who called states to move teachers and support staff of the educational institutions up the vaccine list.

Adds Dr. Ankam Maharashtra teachers and their Unions requested the Chief Minister of that state to give them a priority for COVID-19 Vaccine. Private teachers are jobless for well over a year now. That is why we are even organizing free training to up skill teachers to migrate from traditional classrooms to online teaching.  Many teachers, he says,  have lost their livelihood. They were sacked. They only know to teach. They have turned into daily wage laborers. Some of them are doing agriculture; selling vegetables, working in petrol bunks, and opening a Tiffin canter. Some teachers have committed suicide. 

Teachers shape future citizens of the nation. Their services are required for the future of the nation.  Teachers must be given due weightage in the inoculation drive, he observed.

As states roll out plans to inoculate their citizens, the urgent need to vaccinate teachers is an increasingly pressing concern, says Vanaja, a contract teacher.

Lancet’s India Task Force said, to reopen schools, teachers should be given vaccine priority, reminded Shrikanth, a Hyderabad based teacher. 

United Arab Emirates, China, Russia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Congo, Gambia, Jamaica, Morocco, Qatar, Rwanda, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Belarus have both put teachers in the top priority group.

Some countries where teachers were prioritized in the first phase are: Belarus, the Republic of and the Central Asian republics of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Ramakrishna Reddy, Founder & Head and Manthan International School says, Education is one of the most basic needs of any child and the best way that can happen is by being physically present in school. As education is not only an intellectual activity but equally a development of social, emotional and physical skills. It can only be done under the supervision of a trained and dedicated teacher.

If teachers are scared of getting infected and most of them do have issues like hypertension, diabetes, etc which makes them susceptible to Covid, running schools wouldn’t be possible. So definitely teachers need to be vaccinated on priority as any other front line workers like health care, police, etc says Ramakrishna Reddy, Founder & Head and Manthan International School.

There is absolutely no doubt about that! Any nation to grow needs to prioritize health and safety – We have started in the right way by vaccinating our doctors/nurses, hospital workers and policemen. The next priority should be children’s Education. And vaccinating not just teachers by all school support staff/drivers of school buses etc should be the next priority. We have largely lost one year because of the Pandemic. One more year will put millions of children further behind and we as a nation will pay a very heavy price in the future for this, says Dinesh Victor, MD of SIP Academy. Dinesh Victor is one of the names to reckon in India on the subject of Skills Development in children. He has been a champion of the skill development movement in Children in India.

Adds Harsha Solanki, A Principal of a Private School at Shamshabad, “in our country, where once upon a time Guru was given highest regard in the society, today they are treated with least regard and concern. The fraternity that is responsible for strengthening the future of the nation, who strive relentlessly towards building the nation is blatantly ignored and disregarded. It is high time that they must be brought to the forefront and give them the place that they deserve in society. Yes, teachers must be given priority for vaccination, says she.

T. Usha Giri, Psychologist and Life Coach says a large portion of our population is young. Educating them is teaching community. They are the knowledge givers. Further, one should not ignore that Teachers are always on government duties on the forefront for election duty, census and for any door to door duties etc.

We have lost one year, says Uma Swaminathan, Regional Head of SIP Academy, a skill development organization. No parent would like to lose another year.  Hence, the teachers must be vaccinated on a priority basis. So that whenever pandemic ends, teachers are confident to go back to schools so also the kids, she adds. Teachers are no way less than frontline workers, she adds.

Potta Swapna, a Schools Assistant working in a ZP Government High School for girls says UNESCO urged all countries to prioritize teachers in national COVID-19 vaccine rollout plans to ensure education can continue safely and schools remain open. Teachers and their supporting staff must be vaccinated for the future of the nation.

While people from the teaching community are in favour of the priority treatment to the teachers, people from different walks of life have different opinions.

If teachers and supporting staff are vaccinated it still doesn’t serve a purpose. What about people from different professions. We all are interdependent. If others are not vaccinated, it would not serve the purpose, says Ashwin Rao, a realtor and Secretary of HPS-Ramanthapur Alumni Association.

Krishna Mohan Jampala, a Management Consultant says the priority must be given to frontline health workers, police, people with co-morbidities. Pallavi, a Counsellor says teachers can get vaccinated to spread awareness on the safety of the vaccine thus encouraging others to go for it especially in rural areas. Viiveck Verma. Advisor Telangana State Innovation Cell opines “I don’t think they need to be given a priority as the current need is to focus on the vulnerable sections. Given that most teachers are not exposed to students or others today given online education they should be treated at par with other citizens. If the schools or colleges were working then they would have been a category to give priority.

 Radhakrishna Thatavary, a financial technology expert says as long as teachers are teaching online, we don’t have to think much about them. But, yes, if the schools have to be resumed, it will be a different matter. Santoshi who is associated with a school as an administrator says teachers are similar to any other adult groups. It is not only teachers but all working for a school that can be vaccinated. But, as of now, the schools are conducting virtual classes until the Govt decided to reopen them. Till such time they need not be given priority.

Some schools alumni from the medical field or working as doctors have assisted in some of their teachers  vaccinated. According to a post on Facebook by HPS-Ramanthapur, one of their alumni got all the current teachers of the school vaccinated. Similarly, other alumni got their beloved retired teachers and sub-staff also got inoculated. 

Many raised question that it doesn’t matter who should be given priority. As long as doctors, health workers, frontline warriors like the police are vaccinated we need not worry much about other categories. 

What we need to worry about is how soon we will get the majority of the population vaccinated. And how soon will they be protected? We need to worry about how to overcome vaccine shortage?, How to overcome vaccine hesitancy? 

Ireland and Northern Ireland are said to have fully vaccinated their people. Countries like Serbia, Malta, Hungary, Turkey, though small also have fully vaccinated their population.  

We need to worry about how to reach the status of the UAE, USA and Israel who worked relentlessly and got a maximum number of their people/population vaccinated.  

These are small nations. India is big, so also its resources. We are considered as the ‘Vaccine Capital of the World’, ‘Pharmacy of the World”. And we must live up to its distinction.

We must have vaccine booths like we have voting booths. We must also have “Drive-In-Vaccination’ facilities. Corporate India is gearing up to vaccinate their employees free, some even thinking of vaccinating their immediate families.   

A firm message must go that tika-se-hi-teek. It is the vaccine alone that can help us restore normalcy.

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