The Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is mulling over categorising teachers as frontline workers, meaning that they will have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to continue in their jobs.
The question arises even as the government is unsure what form the reopening of school next Monday, Oct. 4, would take amidst a spike in COVID-19 cases locally.
“… during this period, I must tell you, I’ve received a lot of messages, people have telephoned me, saying that we must put in the regulations coming up (that are soon to be approved) teachers as those who should be considered frontline workers, just like how we consider nurses and doctors and police and prison officers,” Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said on WE FM on Sunday.
He said that consideration is being given to putting air and sea port workers in this same category.
The prime minister said that the number of air and sea port workers who are vaccinated is very small.
“And we will see it. Something has to give; something has to give. It cannot continue like this and those of us who are leading, we have to lead,” the prime minister said.
He said that the position of the government regarding teachers and vaccination is the same as it was before La Soufriere erupted explosively in April.
Students were scheduled to return to the classroom on April 12, but the volcano erupted three days earlier, disrupting that plan.
Before returning to the classroom, teachers were expected to present their vaccination certificate or a negative PCR test at least once every two weeks.
“And the same position applies… You have to take the vaccine or you take the test. And if you don’t do that, you wouldn’t be allowed on the compound,” Gonsalves said.
“Look, parents are demanding it and teachers are demanding it. In that case, I mean, it may well be that on Wednesday the Cabinet may decide that in light of the uptick and what is happening that teachers be included as frontline workers,” the prime minister said.
Regarding the question of vaccinated teachers also being tested frequently, the prime minister said he would support “the best form of security which we can have, as advised by the medical practitioners, by the CMO…
“Of course, if you are vaccinated, your risk of contracting COVID is reduced immensely and of you giving it to people is also reduced.
“But if the teachers want that and the medical authorities support it, I will go along with it,” he said of frequent testing.”
Gonsalves, however, said that he suspects that some teachers “who do not want to be vaccinated want to put themselves and those who are vaccinated on the same footing.
“It might be the politics, the internal politics of vaccination rather than the management of risks in relation to vaccination… I have promised the people of this country that I will lead and I’m leading. And on this matter, the anchor will hold. Never mind if the cables threaten — to borrow from a popular hymn.”
The prime minister said that his government was not yet sure whether students will return to face-to-face education because of the spread of COVID-19 and low uptake in vaccination, although the number of vaccinated people was increasing.
“And then, of course, it may not be one size fits all. One or two of the schools may themselves not be ready,” Gonsalves said, noting that some schools are still being used as emergency shelters while others are undergoing repairs.
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union has said that it would resist mandatory vaccination for teachers.