[WATCH] No need for obligatory vaccination in schools, Education Minister says

Xtra on TVM News Plus | Education Minister Clifton Grima says the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine among educators and students is encouraging and government will not consider making it obligatory

Education Minister Clifton Grima
Education Minister Clifton Grima

Government is not considering making vaccination against COVID-19 obligatory for educators and students, Clifton Grima said.

The Education Minister said the uptake of vaccinations among educators and students was considerable and there was no need for draconian measures.

“We are not looking at obligatory vaccinations. The numbers give us enough comfort because almost everyone involved in schools is vaccinated. We have to continue urging people to take the vaccine and the booster dose to protect themselves, their families and the rest of society,” Grima told Saviour Balzan on TVM News Plus’s Xtra.

The minister said educators were prioritised in the vaccination programme last year and the administration of the booster dose. He said the uptake of the vaccine by young children was also encouraging.

The vaccination programme for children aged between 5 and 11 opened in December after the European Medicines Agency gave its clearance to the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine.

Grima was appointed minister last week, taking the place of Justyne Caruana, who resigned after an ethics breach.

Grima’s first decision as minister was to agree with unions to physically reopen schools on Monday 10 January, with online teaching taking place in the days before.

The minister held talks with all stakeholders that were given a detailed explanation by Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci.

“We also agreed that there will be an ongoing evaluation to react to circumstances as they develop… but after hearing Prof. Gauci’s explanation on the number of infections in schools, the protective measures taken, the vaccination uptake… even as a father I am satisfied that my children are going to school with the existing protocols,” Grima said.

He added that government’s priority was to reopen schools physically because that provided the best learning experience for children.

Opposition spokesperson Clyde Puli said government’s problem over the past two years was a lack of foresight and planning that caught it unprepared when the circumstances changed.

“The PN has said that the best education is achieved in the classroom but there may be circumstances where online learning becomes a necessity and this is why we should not vilify it,” Puli said, adding that government had to be prepared for any eventuality.

Puli disagreed with making COVID vaccinations obligatory for educators and students, insisting that imposing such a policy would conflict with an individual’s right to receive an education.

He said the biggest challenge facing education was not COVID but the foundations that underpinned teaching in the early years.

“More investment is required in the early years, starting from childcare… free childcare was a positive move but its intention was to encourage people to go out and work and so became a child-minding service when we know that early learning is crucial for children,” Puli said.