Why not mandate COVID-19 vaccine for students?Sunday, September 19, 2021
For the umpteenth time, COVID-19 and its effects are on the news. Much of what is said can be summarised as “a lot is happening to us”. It appears that this “happening to us” has been a constant while we have only sat in anticipation of salvation.
We all hoped the pandemic and its challenges would have been behind us by now, yet here we are; on the receiving end of these “happenings”. While we prohibit this passive playstyle, I'd like to remind you that our children are not exempted from these challenges. Their education, in particular, has been greatly impacted.
Irrefutably, education is the key to success and a door out of poverty. It is also a fact that our children are the future of the nation. What sort of future do we expect our nation to have if we send the children there without the key?
As a patriot and a father, I struggle to source anything of greater significance. For this reason, I am in support of mandating the vaccine for school children.
Of course, I am not the only one to have recognised the complications the pandemic brought with it and the impact on the quality of education our children are receiving. However, our elected leaders' response is to apply first world solutions in a third world country.
On paper, online classrooms and e-learning are fantastic, and not only ensures that our children are educated while adhering to the social distancing protocols, but also pushes the nation forward in terms of technology and connectivity.
Unfortunately, the intent is not the result as our accessibility and connectivity are of a Third World standard. The hiccup is even more pronounced among the schools in rural areas as digital connectivity is simply not feasible. It is borderline insulting to propose education strategies with no consideration for rural schools in areas like Juan de Bolas, Lluidas Vale, Tydixon, and Top Hill. The children are crying out for help, and I know our tech companies mean well but we are not at a stage where a curriculum can be taught through a data plan on a smartphone. We have only managed sub-optimal to no education for the most part.
Until the vast majority of students have equal access to the proposed methods, transposing in-person classroom interactions with online or Web-based classrooms will not suffice. The students need to be in school and a working vaccine enables them to do so.
Why allow our baseless reservations to deprive us of a better future for us and our successors? Yes, I dare say baseless, as the chief opposition to my argument is mistrust. We are against mandating vaccines as we don't trust science. The same science that brought us the vaccines for yellow fever, smallpox, the Spanish flu… These vaccines were mandated in a time when there was no Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve them.
Furthermore, chances are you and your kids had already received a mandatory vaccination upon registration for school. The point I am making is, we don't know the contents of those vaccines any more than we know the contents of the COVID-19 vaccines. We trusted science then so what reason do we have to not trust science now?
Additionally, mandatory vaccination is constitutionally appropriate so long as it is in favour of public health imperatives. This means your rights would not be violated provided COVID-19 vaccination was mandated. So, if your reservation is a matter of being forced into action then that is unfortunate but the Government can enact mandates in the interest of your well-being.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in fall 2021 is a priority. Vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.”
The CDC also confirms that children below 12 are not eligible for mandatory COVID-19 vaccination and I dare not challenge the experts. So no, I am not saying vaccinate those who haven't been cleared. I will continue to trust the science and suggest that we mandate vaccinations for the eligible. The CDC is currently working on COVID-19 vaccines for children below 12. As such, it is imperative that we who are eligible protect them as the vulnerable cohort.
These days, our leaders appear very preoccupied with the National Identification System (NIDS) and all efforts seem streamlined in realising it. Yet there has been little to nothing from them on education. It has to be somebody's job to tell us of the plans for the students who have been out of school for almost two years and how we intend to get them to their projected juncture. Is it that the NIDS is more important than the education of the future of Jamaica? What will be the result if we are to persist with these makeshift solutions?
Our students have been out of school for over 18 months now and I would hate to think the damage irreparable. Therefore, we must consider the ramifications so that we can make the necessary preparations for their future. Someone needs to ask “What will happen to our students 5-10 years in the future?” and someone needs to have an answer to that question. As one of the preliminary measures, I propose a survey be done that is geared towards accumulating responses to that very question. In addition, with 12 years old being such a volatile age, how do the cards look in two years when the child is 14? Will they have already sat the all-important Primary Exit Profile? What will be their course for either outcome?
There is also an association between mental health and school closures that we must consider. On September 3, 2021, the J ournal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study on the Association Between School Closures and Child Mental Health During COVID-19. In the study, “association between school closures and worse child mental health outcomes was observed, with older children and children from families with lower income experiencing more mental health problems associated with school closures”. This only makes sense and will only worsen the more students fall behind their more fortunate peers. The disproportionate application of web-based learning only multiplies the fear of falling behind. This in itself can birth a host of mental health issues. Let this not be your child or anyone else's as the future is not a competition. If we are to move the nation forward, it has to be a collaborative effort.
I am not interested in my children being ahead of yours due to accessibility or vice versa. I am interested in equal access and equal opportunity for the better.
Hope is awesome, hope is free, but as I always say, “Hope is not a course of action.” We need to make something happen or things will continue to happen to us. We need to put our children first and that means making their education a top priority.
Mandate the vaccine because the future of our nation depends on it.
Hugh Graham is Member of Parliament for St Catherine North Western, and CEO of Paramount Trading Ltd.
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