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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Unions wait in bated breath for details on the vaccination of educators


Teacher unions continue to anxiously wait for feedback from the department of health and the department of basic education on when the vaccination of educators will commence.

The added anxiety comes after the vaccination of educators was put on hold following the announcement on Sunday by the department of health that over two million Johnson and Johnson (J&J) vaccines are contaminated.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Saturday ordered that over 60 million J&J vaccine doses be discarded after concerns that they could be contaminated at the manufacturing plant.

“We are hoping to hear from the department today, we have heard over the weekend about the contaminated vaccines being destroyed,” said spokesperson of the National Professional Teachers Organization of South Africa (Naptosa), Basil Manuel.

According to pharmaceutical company Aspen, Johnson & Johnson will provide 300 000 doses of the vaccine for South African teachers within days.

Manuel said Naptosa has heard of the 300 000 unaffected vaccines will arrive in South Africa soon, “however, we don’t know if they have been organised to vaccinate educators, so we wait to hear from the department of health and the department of basic education”.

Since April, teacher unions across the country have been calling for the vaccination of teachers who, despite learners coming in on a rotational basis, have been going to school on a daily.

READ: SADTU calls for vaccination of teachers

Last Monday, Inside Education reported that teacher unions confirmed that educators, cleaners and other support staff at public schools in South Africa will be vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus starting 9 June 2021.

Unions said at least 500,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been secured for the education sector.

“We have always called for government to use vaccines which have a record of effectiveness in their use. The J&J vaccines together with the other ones our government chose – do not have such,” said Education Union of South Africa’s Kabelo Mahlobongwane.

Mahlobongwane said they are not shocked at the news that vaccines have been destroyed because they were contaminated.

“We actually suspect that the quantity we are being told of never even existed before. These were just numbers that were announced to give the country false hope,” said Mahlobongwane.

READ: Teacher unions push to have teachers vaccinated in June

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu)’s Mugwena Maluleke said the decision by both departments was based on findings by the FDA.

“We still expect that teachers will still be prioritised, in terms of the 300 000 vaccines that have been approved, teachers will be first in line to receive,” said Maluleke.

The union leaders told Inside Education that both the department of basic education and department of health have not communicated with them on the progress of vaccines thus far. However, they remain hopeful that educators will get vaccinated.

Unions have also called for the vaccination of educators to be completed before learners return to school on a full-time basis from 26 July 2021.

“The vaccination of educators should be given the urgency it deserves. Private institutions have already started with taking necessary steps, whereas our public education management is still sleeping,” said Mahlobongwane.

READ: Union concerned about DBE’s ability to manage full-time return to primary schools

South Africa and other African countries have been in a constant battle of getting access to Covid-19 vaccines since the beginning of the pandemic. African countries continue look for solutions in order to ensure that even middle- and low-income countries can afford to vaccinate their populations.

On Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the Group of Seven (G7) Summit in the United Kingdom, where he pleaded with rich countries to sign the Agreement of Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver as the world fights the Covid-19 pandemic.

One of the challenges faced by African states is the negative impact that intellectual property (IP) barriers have had in the past. Leaders of these countries have asked developed nations to allow African countries to scale up the manufacturing and supply of lifesaving Covid-19 medical tools across the world.

According to the organisation Doctors without Borders, the World Trade Organization (WTO) can and should invoke a waiver of certain IP rights on these Covid-19 technologies under WTO rules. The not-for-profit organisation argues that the pandemic is an exceptional global crisis and thus, for humanitarian issues, the need to make profits should be set aside.

South Africa and India also submitted a landmark proposal earlier this year to the WTO requesting that WTO members waive four categories of IP rights including copyright, industrial designs, patents and undisclosed information under the TRIPS until the majority of the world population receives effective vaccines and develops immunity to Covid-19.

Ramaphosa said the proposed TRIPS waiver is a temporary, targeted and proportional response, which recognises the unprecedented nature of the pandemic.

He said the TRIPS waiver is to assist countries especially middle and low-income nations to be able to access vaccines.

“We call on G7 members to support the waiver and engage in negotiations that will result in a balanced outcome that massively and rapidly expands production in Africa and across the world,” said Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa said negotiations must be concluded soon because the cost of Covid-19 infections is measured in people’s lives.

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