Schools need more jabs

Schools need more jabs

The nation's sluggish campaign to vaccinate school-age children has thrown the plan to fully reopen schools into disarray.

This week, the Education Ministry urged schools to prioritise safety, asking schools which aren't ready to resume on-site activities by Nov 1 to continue with online learning until they are ready.

As a result, dozens of schools in the "dark red" zone, which have had to postpone the start of the term twice to date, won't fully reopen on Monday.

While the vaccination campaign in schools is said to be making good progress, with over 80% of teachers having received their first jab as of Friday, the number of people who have completed their rounds remain low. In some schools, only 30% of staff have received two doses of Covid vaccine.

Among the five million students aged 12-17 who are eligible to receive a government-sponsored Pfizer jab, 3.5 million have signed up to be inoculated. However, it would take weeks for those who have received their first jab to complete their rounds. As of Oct 22, only 40% of students have received two jabs. Considering that schools won't be allowed to reopen unless 85% of their students have received two doses of the vaccine, many schools will indeed remain closed for the foreseeable future.

The Education Ministry has launched a number of rules to prevent Covid transmission at school, including the Sandbox Safety Zone in School, which places limits on the number of students in a class and requires strict periodic testing among students and staff. Each school is required to have a Covid contingency plan to prevent contagion on its premises.

In reality, the majority of schools which are able to meet these requirements to reopen are privately-run international schools in Bangkok. Most schools in the dark red zone, in fact, won't be allowed to reopen despite meeting the requirements as they are located near an active cluster. The only way the government can safely allow schools to reopen is by accelerating its vaccination drive, to ensure more schools can switch to in-person instruction as soon as possible.

The Education Ministry should also come up with an alternative solution. A good example is the so-called hybrid system, in which schools in areas where infection numbers are high are allowed to mix onsite and online learning. Students which have a reason to stay at home should be allowed to study online, while those who must attend will only see at most 10 other students in class. Under the system, all students attending physical classes are required to have been jabbed and produce a negative Covid test result with an antigen test kit (ATK).

Previously, the ministry had proposed to make the use of ATK mandatory for all students, but it took a U-turn, possibly due to budget constraints. This should be reviewed too. Indeed, the ministry should allocate more money to rapid testing. With more testing capacity, schools can bring some students back to class, instead of making all of them wait at home, until enough students are double vaccinated. Rapid testing can help making schools safe and risk-free environment.

Although the Education Ministry allows each school to decide whether it is ready for reopening, it must do what it can to end the interruption to education.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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