More than 90 percent of schoolchildren aged 16 and over, basically O and A-Level classes, have now been vaccinated for Covid-19, says the National Association of Secondary Heads (NASH) after medical safety experts cleared the Sinovac vaccine for this age group and vaccination teams moved into the schools.
While parents need to consent, almost all are or at least not objecting as they want their children to be safe.
Speaking after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said the same collaboration between the education and health sectors, which resulted in safe and successful 2020 schools examination processes, was expected to deliver the desired outcome.
The Ministries of Health and Child Care and of Primary and Secondary Education are collaborating to ensure adequate measures, informed by World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, are put in place to ensure public examinations are held safely without risking a spike in Covid-19 infections.
The two ministries are also cooperating on the vaccination of schoolchildren aged 16 and above, which has driven much of the recent improvement in the uptake of Covid-19 vaccines.
NASH president Mr Arthur Maposa said heads were confident of holding exams in a safe environment without risking a spike in Covid-19 infections.
“This year we are more confident. We are being assisted by the Ministry of Health and Child Care to put safety measures in place. For instance, they are coming to schools to vaccinate the eligible age groups, that is those above 16 years,” said Mr Maposa.
“To date we have vaccinated more than 90 percent of learners in almost all schools that were visited by health teams and other schools are reporting more than 95 percent uptake of vaccines.
“We are seeking the consent of parents before vaccinating learners and I am happy to say most parents want their children to be vaccinated,” he said.
The national vaccination programme has seen more than 3,6 million people getting their first doses while more than 2,7 million people have been fully vaccinated.
Government last year managed to hold public examinations in a safe environment despite the rising number of infections in communities as the second wave engulfed the country.
National Association of Primary Heads (NAPH) president Mrs Cynthia Khumalo said it was all systems go for Grade Seven examinations following consultations with their health counterparts.
“We have been working with the Ministry of Health and they have assisted us extensively in the implementation of Covid-19 guidelines, which makes us more confident of holding the exams in a safe environment.
“They are giving us technical expertise and they come to schools to disinfect at regular intervals,” said Mrs Khumalo.
“All the schools were attached to a certain health centre which attends to them whenever there are cases which need assistance. I am happy to say our health counterparts have been prompt and efficient to attend to our concerns.”
Health and Child Care Deputy Minister Dr John Mangwiro said it was important to follow scientific advice not only in schools, but also in communities to avoid the fourth wave of infections being witnessed in other countries.
He said for now, the advice was to get vaccinated through the national programme funded by the Treasury and to continue adhering to the prescribed containment measures.
“Research which was carried out revealed that 90 percent of the people succumbing to Covid-19 related complications in this country are not vaccinated,” he said.
“It is a sign that vaccination gives confidence. We are not encouraging any other forms of unverified medications or procedures but we are saying vaccines are a proven scientific record to control this virus. Vaccination helps boost your immunity against Covid-19 thus it helps in reducing your chances of contracting the virus as well as minimising getting seriously ill if infected.
“We are happy that we are now vaccinating the younger age group as well. We want our children to be protected from this virus,” said Dr Mangwiro.