1 in 3 Filipino students still unvaccinated as in-person classes resume after 2 years of school closure

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ANN) – About one in three of the 27 million Filipino students – some 5 million of whom are expected to resume in-person classes on Monday (August 22) – have yet to receive a single injection of vaccines against the Covid-19 virus, the Ministry of Education reported.

Department of Education spokesman Michael Poa told reporters on Friday August 19 that only 5.3 million students had been fully vaccinated. Another 5.7 million people received just one injection, he said.

“We would have liked the numbers to be higher… But the truth is that the national government’s vaccination program is not mandatory,” Poa said.

Some 5.6 million primary, secondary and college students are expected to resume in-person classes for the first time on Monday, more than two years since the government closed schools in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Students in the country have had to endure one of the longest pandemic-induced shutdowns in the world due to low vaccination rates and the ongoing problem of classroom shortages.

The Ministry of Education conducted a blended learning test – a mix of face-to-face and online lessons in 120 basic education schools – in November 2021.

This year, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has ordered all schools to fully transition to in-person classes by November, except in certain areas.

Mr Poa said schools “will not discriminate” against students or teachers who have not yet been vaccinated.

“We will just have to strictly adhere to minimum health and safety standards to protect not only our learners, but also our teaching and non-teaching staff,” he said.

Meanwhile, almost all of the country’s 1 million teachers and other school employees have already been fully vaccinated. There are still about 79,000 who have yet to receive at least one injection.

Education Undersecretary Epimaco Densing told a congressional hearing that at least 17,000 teachers had refused to be vaccinated.

“We recognize that getting vaccinated shouldn’t be mandatory. Those who are vaccinated and unvaccinated would really interact with each other… What’s important is that inside classrooms, wearing face masks and the (implementation of) minimum public health standards will be required,” he said.

The vaccine uptake rate is lowest among students aged 5 to 11 – at just 10%, he said.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who heads the Senate Education Committee, said: “I think that’s a good number, and we don’t see any problem with it. The problem is with 5 to 11 (age group ). That’s where the challenge comes in.”

The school’s closure for years came at a high price.

A World Bank study released in July showed that nine out of 10 Filipino children still had difficulty reading simple texts at the age of 10, making the Philippines one of the countries in East Asia and of the Pacific region with the highest rates of “learning poverty”.

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