(UPDATED) Teachers and non-teaching school personnel who will be participating in the two-month pilot study on limited face-to-face classes in low-risk areas are expected to be fully vaccinated against coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), officials said Monday, September 27, 2021.
Directives have been issued to fasttrack vaccination of all school personnel who will be involved in the pilot run, although the Covid-19 Vaccination Program Act, or Republic Act 115251, does not require citizens to receive the vaccine.
Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Leonor Briones said she was advised by their legal department that "the state has the right to impose mandatory precautions" when the safety and survival of the state from a pandemic are at stake.
"Ako naniniwala na kung ating itutuloy itong pilot study, kailangan we ensure na whoever - the teachers, the staff, the officials - will deal with the children will be vaccinated. 'Yan din ang personal na paningin ko," she said during the signing Monday of a joint memorandum circular by the DepEd and DOH on the guidelines for the resumption of face-to-face classes.
(I believe that if we are pursue this pilot study, we must ensure that whoever - the teachers, the staff, the officials - will deal with the children will be vaccinated. That's my personal stand.)
Briones said vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. has also made "a call to make sure that all teachers and staff are vaccinated."
"He was very specific na yung 100 schools na ma-identify natin, na kino-consider, and make sure that they will be vaccinated," Briones said. (He was very specific that we should make sure the personnel in the 100 schools that will be chosen for the pilot program would be vaccinated.)
The pilot study will involve 120 schools consisting of 95 public elementary schools, 5 senior high schools and 20 private schools which will pass the readiness and risk assessments being conducted by the DepEd and Department of Health (DOH). As of Monday, DepEd officials said risk and readiness assessment of these schools were still ongoing. No target date for the implementation of the pilot run has been set.
DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the vaccine cluster of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) headed by Galvez has already issued an advisory to fast track the vaccination of all teachers and non-teaching school personnel.
"This (vaccination of teachers) was agreed on by the Department of Education and the Department of Health that...this (vaccination) should be there for us to ensure the safety of our children," she said.
DepEd Planning Service Director Roger Masapol, in his presentation of the guidelines for the pilot study, categorically stated that "all school personnel that will be involved (in the pilot run) must be fully vaccinated."
School personnel must also be under 65 years old and have no comorbidities.
Masapol said they were closely coordinating with the local government units (LGUs) on the vaccination of teachers and school personnel, who are part of priority group A4.
The DepEd is also coordinating with the LGUs to ensure that participating learners have completed their routine infant vaccinations.
Under the guidelines contained in a joint memorandum circular signed by the DepEd and the DOH Monday, only one teacher will be assigned per class for kindergarten to grade 3 to limit the number of people who will have close contacts with the learners while they are in school.
Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, a member of the DOH Technical Advisory Group and head of the Philippine General Hospital Infectious Disease Section of the Department of Pediatrics, said the only way to protect the children who can't be vaccinated yet is for those who deal with them to get the vaccine.
"Sa side ng health sector, hangga't sa maaari na lahat ng humaharap sa bata ay bakunado. 'Yan ang gusto naming mangyari. But alam din namin na naging usapin din sa public 'yung individual's right to be able to decide for himself kung sila ba ay magpapabakuna o hindi," she said.
"As a child health professional, I would encourage na sana lahat ng haharap sa bata, whether sila ay nasa tahanan o nasa paaralan, ay isaalang-alang nila na karamihan sa mga bata ay hindi pa mababakunahan. And the way by which we can protect the children is for ourselves to be careful - mahigpit na pagsunod sa minimum public health standards pati na rin yung pagbabakuna ang s'yang paraan na magagawa natin para maging ligtas ang mga bata," Ong-Lim added.
Under the guidelines, face-to-face classes will be held every other week, alternating with distance learning sessions through online classes or modules. The class size for the face-to-face classes has been reduced, as follows: