Group insists ‘mass vaccination of all students’ despite lack of available COVID-19 vaccine for 18 below

Published April 17, 2021, 8:35 PM

by Merlina Hernando-Malipot

“No vaccine, no face-to-face classes.”

This is the stand of an activist youth organization pushing for the resumption of face-to-face classes only when “all students” have been inoculated with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine.

“We strongly condemn the deafening silence of the education officials when it comes to the mass vaccination of the youth,” said 17-year-old Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (SPARK) Spokesperson for junior and senior high school affairs Justin Dizon in a statement issued April 16.

“The agencies must be true to their mandate by making education safe and accessible for all, and the only way to do it is inoculate all students before proceeding to face-to-face classes,” Dizon added.

SPARK also challenged Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Briones to “once and for all speak on the issue of mass vaccination of students instead of turning them into guinea pigs and left to their families’ own devices once infected by COVID.”

Dizon added that there is “no logic” in the multiple scenario planning being done by the DepEd when it has remained silent on the “most basic of all antidotes to the problems that have risen under an education scheme in the time of a pandemic” – which is the “free, mass vaccination of all students.”

Combined, there are around 30 million students across all levels nationwide. As of January 2021, there are over 26 million students enrolled at the basic education level – both in public and private schools – according to DepEd.

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED), meanwhile, said that there are more than 3 million students in higher education.

For adults only 

Despite the group’s call to inoculate all students before resuming the face-to-face conduct of classes, such is not yet possible according to experts.

Read more: COVID-19 vaccines are ‘not yet’ for children

Even the Department of Health (DOH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have repeatedly explained that children and youth – those below 18 years old – might have to wait a little longer to be immunized since the COVID-19 vaccines available are not yet guaranteed to be safe for them.

Read more: Are you eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?, COVID-19 vaccine not yet for children — WHO

To further clarify its demand for “mass vaccination of all students,” the Manila Bulletin reached out to SPARK via phone call on Saturday, April 17.

Dizon – who is also a Grade 11 student in a private school in Imus, Cavite – explained that the group’s call is not only for the inoculation of students but for concrete steps that would lead to safe reopening of schools amid the pandemic.  

“We’re pushing this for those who are eligible,” Dizon said in a mix of English and Filipino when informed that COVID-19 vaccines were not yet available for individuals 18 years old and below.

So far, only students in select higher education institutions (HEIs) taking up medical and allied health sciences have been allowed by the CHED to attend limited face-to-face classes.

Read more: CHED: 24 colleges, universities approved to re-open for limited face-to-face classes

However, CHED said that conduct of limited face-to-face classes in areas where there are reported surges in COVID-19 cases have been temporarily suspended.

Read more: Limited face-to-face classes in NCR+ temporarily suspended, CHED says

Dizon, who admitted to experiencing challenges under online learning, maintained that face-to-face classes should not resume until measures that would ensure the safety of students are in place.

“We also have to look into the infrastructure in schools and if face-to-face classes are still not possible, the government should provide gadgets and additional connectivity allowance to students for online or distance learning,” he added.

SPARK has been organizing multiple campaigns regarding distance learning.

Earlier this month, the group released a unity statement together with other various youth organizations and student leaders to call for “free mass vaccination and proper implementation and safe conduct of face-to-face classes.”