- Vaccination of school students aged 12-17 started on 1 November last year
- Till Monday, 39.56 lakh students have received the first dose of the vaccine
- 5.04 lakh have received two doses
- Authorities blame slow vaccination on low turnout of students at vaccination centres
Several Indian states, including West Bengal, have announced an immediate closure of educational institutions in light of a worrying increase in daily cases, including those of the Omicron variant, as they could not bring most students under vaccination coverage.
Bangladesh – having vaccinated only 4% of its secondary-level students aged 12-17 years with two doses of Covid shots till this Monday, despite the fact that there are "adequate stocks of vaccines" – is also considering shutting schools again if the Covid situation deteriorates.
"We are closely observing the coronavirus situation as always…. If we have to close educational institutions we will do that," Education Minister Dipu Moni told the media on Monday.
Expressing concerns over the depressing state of vaccination of students even if the authorities claim they have enough vaccines in stock, Professor Dr Nazrul Islam, noted virologist and member of the Nation Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19, told The Business Standard (TBS) that negligence on the part of the education and health ministries is to be blamed for this situation.
"The infection rate is increasing rampantly," he said, suggesting that the two ministries concerned must work together to provide vaccines to all the students as early as possible.
Meanwhile, the health directorate says the health ministry is not able to administer the vaccine as per target since the turnout of vaccine seekers is poor.
The health ministry is tasked to administer vaccines only, the health directorate has mentioned, adding it is the responsibility of the education ministry to send students' information to the Surokkha website of the ICT ministry, send students' lists to schools, and bring students to schools.
Professor Abul Bashar Mohammad Khurshid Alam, director general of the health directorate, told TBS, "In spite of having capacity, we cannot vaccinate 40,000 students daily in Dhaka city because of a much lower turnout of students at the vaccination centres."
Responding to queries as to why the majority of school- and college-going children are still outside vaccination coverage, the education minister on Monday, however, said the onus is on the guardians of students.
Mentioning that many guardians are reluctant to send their children for taking vaccines, which is delaying the vaccination process, she said, "We cannot compel guardians to have their children vaccinated. We can only request them. Basically, it is the guardians' duty to have vaccines taken by their children for the latter's safety," she added.
Meanwhile, the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE) has identified seven reasons for the sluggishness in providing vaccines to students.
Professor Dr Golam Faruk, director general of DSHE, said the reasons are time-consuming registration process on Surakkha App, many students do not have National Identification Cards, complexities over obtaining birth registration certificates, Internet problems, closure of schools, reluctance of guardians, and the absence of a conducive environment to preserve Pfizer vaccines.
The education ministry is serious about students' vaccination, he said, adding that all teachers and guardians have been asked to act proactively to make sure that all students are vaccinated.
"On Saturday, we sent a letter to people concerned to complete vaccinations soon. We have also requested the health ministry to take special measures in this regard," he added.
Prof Abul Bashar Mohammad Khurshid Alam of the health directorate said, "It was said earlier students from nearby schools also can be vaccinated in the schools which have been designated as vaccination centers. But now many schools are closing the centres once their own students are vaccinated."
Many guardians also are apparently indifferent about the vaccination of their children, he said, adding they need to understand that their children might be infected if infections surge, said Khurshid Alam.
Vaccination of school students aged between 12 and 17 started on 1 November last year. Initially, vaccination was being administered at only eight centres in Dhaka, but now students are getting the vaccines at 11 centres in the capital as well as at the district level.
So far 39,56,100 students have received the first dose of the vaccine and 5,04,886 have received two doses.
As many as 1,58,566 students across the country took the first dose of the vaccine on Monday. Of these, 9,044 students were from Dhaka city.
As coronavirus infections are again on the rise in the country, a recent inter-ministerial meeting urged the education ministry to speed up the process of bringing all students under vaccination before the Omicron variant spreads.