Amanda Watson and Reitumetse Makwea
300 thousand vaccines meant for teachers have arrived in SA, and should go a long way toward providing some relief for the sector
In his budget speech yesterday to the Gauteng Legislature, education MEC Panyaza Lesufi said the third wave of Covid-19 infections was causing “immeasurable panic and misery” in schools.
“This year alone, 1 077 [teachers] tested positive, the number of [pupils] who tested positive was almost double that, at 1 977,” he said.
“We are monitoring the situation and await guidance and advice from our health experts. We remain open-minded in taking whatever action will assist to minimise the infections in our schools.”
The department of health (DOH) yesterday announced a new attempt to revive its stumbling vaccination programme, following the expected arrival of 300 000 Johnson and Johnson (J&J) single-dose vaccines in South Africa today – with vaccinations of the education body expected to begin on 23 June.
The announcement by the DOH to the parliamentary portfolio committee of health (PPCH) yesterday, will bring welcome relief to mounting fears from teachers and school support staff as the country recorded 13 246 Covid-19
infections with 136 related deaths on Wednesday, the country’s highest since January.
Another 1.2 million J&J doses are expected to arrive in the country by 28 June, technical advisor to the health department Dr Aquina Thulare told the PPCH.
Thulare said the vaccines had been labelled with US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements, however, the South African Health Regulatory Association had provided a labelling exemption.
While the vaccine had an expiry date of 28 June, this had been extended for four weeks, following a “stability study” by the FDA.
“J&J approached the department on 2 June, indicating it had 479 800 doses which could be made available to South Africa,” Thulare said.
Education had been identified as a priority sector with a defined population and information from public education systems, school governing bodies and private schools to identify those to receive vaccines.
The intent was to vaccinate 300 000 people in 10 days from 23 June, after vaccines were dispatched to provinces on the 22nd.
Thulare said the remaining 199 000 people from the education body would be vaccinated from the next batch of 1.2 million J&J doses – including the remaining health workers – arriving on 28 June.
With four provinces in the grip of a third wave of infections and Gauteng leading with 7 859 new cases reported on Wednesday, it may all be too little, too late.
Education policy analyst and postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation Dr Sara Black said parents had been effectively put into an impossible situation by the failure of structural systems to
plan for a relatively predictable third wave and possible fourth wave towards the end of the year.
“We should have rallied broadcast media a year ago when we saw what was happening,” she said.
“Public community radios, and state broadcasting should dedicate channels of materials to different grades and subjects, as happened with study guides and study support years ago.”
Black advised caregivers, parents, school governing bodies and schools to work closely together to come up with a situation that would help the pupils.
“Broadcast media is the most accessible medium, particularly for children in rural areas where there is no internet or postal services,” she said.