Government has announced that to reopen schools for all learners across the country, more than 357,500 (65 per cent) teachers must be vaccinated.
Official statistics show only 38 per cent of teachers have been vaccinated, six months after the government kicked off Covid-19 vaccination where teachers and health workers were singled out as priority.
And of the teachers so far vaccinated, up to 77 per cent have received only one dose, meaning their immunity against Covid-19 is less effective.
The government is struggling to secure vaccines for 21.9 million people. The country is using donated vaccines from Covax facility and sympathetic nations like India, Norway, France, and China.
The World Health Organisation this week appealed to wealthy nations to share the scarce shots with poor countries who are yet to immunise their people instead of being used by rich countries as boosters.
Education ministry officials have also abandoned the initial plan to vaccinate all learners from 12 years and above before reopening schools. They say experts in the Ministry of Health advised against the move and proposed that the focus be put on vaccinating at least 65 per cent of the teachers.
The Ministry of Health spokesperson, Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, yesterday confirmed a total of 209,336 (38 per cent) teachers of the 550,000 had been vaccinated even as some officials in the education sector talked of 46 per cent.
“For teachers, we have reached about 162,026 for the first dose [of AstraZeneca vaccine], and about 47,310 have received their second dose,” Mr Ainebyoona said.
This means a total of 340,664 teachers in the country have not yet been vaccinated even as government now pegs reopening of all educational institutions on vaccination of teachers.
For government to reopen schools and other institutions of learning, Ministry of Heath has to vaccinate a total of 151,164 teachers to hit the target of 65 per cent announced by the Ministry of Education.
The Assistant Commissioner in-charge of Communications and Information Management at the Ministry of Education, Mr Patrick Muida, told Daily Monitor yesterday that engagements are ongoing to get teachers vaccinated.
“The ministries of Education and Health are currently out in the field mobilising to ensure that all teachers are vaccinated so that we can consider reopening of schools,” Mr Muida said
Currently, the country has a total of 586,080 doses of Covid-19 vaccines. However, the available vaccines also need to cater for health workers, elderly, security officers and people with underlying comorbidities.
In the face of the Covid-19 threat, the government shut educational institutions first in March 2020 and again on June 18, 2021, after a post-first pandemic wave phased re-opening.
The second lockdown, which ran for 42 days, has been partially lifted, but schools remain closed leaving a total of 15.1m learners locked home.
The government has kept changing positions on the reopening of schools.
First, it pegged the reopening on vaccination of all teachers.
“All teachers should fully get vaccinated before they are accepted in schools…. If we say for health reasons this is required and you don’t, you shall not come to work place. Yes, you have your right to boycott the vaccine but we also have right to protect ourselves,” Mr Museveni said in June during his address to the nation on Covid-19.
The President’s directive attracted criticism from members of the public because the government had failed to provide adequate vaccines for those who need it.
Seven months down the road, the government has not been able to vaccinate even half of the teachers in the country with nearly 1.7m doses the country has received so far.
Last month, the government said reopening of schools would be after vaccination of students above 12 years.
But Mr Muida yesterday reiterated that the Ministry of Health discouraged vaccination of children because they are not at high risk of Covid-19.
“The Ministry of Education told us that children not being vaccinated should not be a worry of Ministry of Education. They said the worry should be on children getting coronavirus and taking it to their parents and even killing them,” Mr Muida said.
Teachers weigh in
Mr Filbert Baguma, the general secretary of Uganda National Teachers’ Union (Unatu), told Daily Monitor that the low numbers of teachers who have been vaccinated resulted from shortage of vaccines and hesitancy.
The reports from foreign countries that some vaccine recipients died after vaccination or experienced other adverse effects such as blood clots, increased vaccine hesitancy in the country.
There was also general misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines with some saying the vaccine had micro-chips that some organised group of people want to use to monitor or control vaccine recipients.
Mr Baguma said: “Some of the teachers go to vaccination centres and because the lines are long, some of them give up. Also, some of them don’t find vaccines at the centres. Even if they [Ministry of Health] talk about priority groups, they end up mixing up people and it becomes the struggle for the fittest.”
He added: “In some areas, there was that negativity created about the vaccine and the Ministry of Health didn’t do much to correct what was in the public domain and people started by fear.”
About the President’s directive on vaccination before reopening schools, Mr Baguma said: “That one is not a problem as long as every adult within the school set up is vaccinated. Because if you vaccinate the teachers and leave out the non-teaching staff, then you will have wasted resources and time.”
He added: “Even when you are vaccinated, you can catch the disease. So the government should at least make sure that everyone within the school set up is vaccinated [to minimise the Covid-19 risks].”
Mr Ainebyoona said: “Since the second wave, we have seen an increased demand of the vaccine. The only challenge has been the availability of vaccines. Huge numbers of people are coming for vaccination countrywide.”
“This month we are also expecting about 299,000 doses of Astrazeneca vaccines from Covax. Within next month, part of the 2 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine [that we ordered] will be arriving.”
Reopening of schools
Mr Muida said officials from the Ministry of Education and Health are slated to meet today at State House to discuss the possibilities and strategies of reopening of schools when teachers are vaccinated.
Mr Muida said the meeting will discuss the option of reopening after 65 per cent of teachers have been vaccinated.
The Ministry of Education will assess how many teachers would have been vaccinated in two weeks’ time when the available doses are expected to get finished.
The revelation from the ministry comes amid increasing pressure from the United Nations for governments to reopen schools.
A number of Opposition politicians have also lashed out at the government for pegging reopening of schools on vaccination of children.
Politician Dr Kizza Besigye last week said the government should reopen schools even when teachers and children have not been vaccinated.
According to Dr Besigye, children are not severely affected by Covid-19 because their immunity is strong.
He said most teachers are below 50 years so even if they contracted Covid-19, they would heal.
However, most parents and heads of school have lost hope since no one knows when schools will reopen. There is currently no school calendar to stipulate when and how the government will reopen schools.
Mr Muida, however, said the Education ministry cannot release a schools calendar until strategies have been discussed and agreed upon.
June 6 2021
President Museveni called for vaccination of all teachers
July 29, 2021
The State Primary Education minister, Dr Moriku Kaducu, said schools will not reopen unless all teachers and university students take the Covid-19 jab and the disease’s positivity rate reduces to 5 per cent.
July 30, 2021
Both president Museveni and the Minister of Education, Ms Janet Museveni said all children above 12 years should be vaccinated before reopening schools.
August 12, 2021
The Ministry of Education said schools would reopen after vaccinating 65 per cent of teachers.