Recto wants teachers prioritized after health workers in vaccine rollout

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto has asked the country's pandemic response officials to prioritize teachers after health workers in the government's COVID-19 vaccination program to help restore "normalcy" in the education sector.

Recto made the recommendation during the Senate hearing on the government's COVID-19 vaccination plan on Friday, January 22.

"It's difficult to open the economy if we're not able to open our schools to begin with. Education is essential; it cannot be not essential," Recto said.

Testing czar Vince Dizon, also the deputy chief implementer of the country's pandemic response, said that teachers are among the essential workers that will be part of the prioritization.

However, teachers are not part of the top 5 priority groups, which include health workers, senior citizens, poor Filipinos, and uniformed personnel.

Teachers, as well as children, are part of the target groups to be considered once the government secures deals to vaccinate 10.5 million more Filipinos, alongside social workers; other government workers; essential workers in food, transport, tourism, and agriculture industries; persons with disabilities; Filipinos in high-density areas; overseas Filipino workers; and the remaining workforce. 

Recto said that teachers should be on top of the list.

"Should it be a commitment na (that) let's do our health workers, next is our teachers so we could have normalcy in the education sector?" Recto asked.

Dizon said they will consider Recto's recommendation.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate committee on basic education, arts and culture, earlier made a similar plea to the  National Task Force Against COVID-19, seeking the inclusion of public school teachers and non-teaching school staff among the prioritized groups for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. 

The government is eyeing the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the country by the end of February.

In November 2020, the United Nations Children's Fund or UNICEF urged countries to prioritize teachers in their vaccination programs.

"UNICEF is calling for teachers to be prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, once frontline health personnel and high-risk populations are vaccinated. This will help protect teachers from the virus, allow them to teach in person, and ultimately keep schools open," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has categorized school staff as "frontline essential workers" and should be among the earliest in line to get the coronavirus vaccines.

In some areas in the United States, teachers have already been vaccinated as the country prepares for the safe reopening of schools.

Due to the pandemic, schools across the globe had to shut down and shift to remote learning. In the Philippines, the Department of Education has implemented distance learning – a combination of learning modules and online classes – for this school year.

The distance learning system, however, exposed the gaps in the Philippine education system evident in erroneous learning modules. It has also made inequities, especially around the digital divide, more apparent than ever before.

Meanwhile, a teachers' group earlier this year noted a decline in students participating in online classes and turning in their accomplished learning modules.

Vaccines currently being developed by different pharmaceuticals can only be used for ages 16 to 18 and above. 

Pfizer and BioNTech expanded its COVID-19 vaccine trials to children ages 12 and older in October 2020, while Moderna announced in December that it had just started trials on children aged 12 to 17.

The vaccine’s efficacy and safety will have to be evaluated first for each age group. – Rappler.com

Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.

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