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Covid vaccine hesitancy in teachers imparts wrong lesson

Kerala’s general education minister V Sivankutty recently revealed that more than 5,000 teachers and non-teaching staff in schools are yet to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Published: 03rd December 2021 07:11 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd December 2021 07:11 AM   |  A+A-

COVID Vaccine Mandate

For representational purposes (AP Illustrations)

Kerala’s general education minister V Sivankutty recently revealed that more than 5,000 teachers and non-teaching staff in schools are yet to get vaccinated against Covid-19. While some had valid health reasons to keep away from the vaccination drive, most cited religious beliefs to opt out. The presence of “unvaccinated teachers” has become a major health concern with the schools in the state resuming offline classes from November 1.

The government, on its part, has since then taken some measures to deal with this vaccine hesitancy. It has withdrawn the option of working from home for the unvaccinated teachers and wants them to return to schools with RT-PCR negative reports. The teachers who refuse to get vaccinated on non-medical grounds should undergo RT-PCR test every week, it said. Even unvaccinated employees in other government departments need to go through the same procedure. The government has also decided to classify unvaccinated persons as ineligible for free Covid treatment. Kerala has been providing free treatment to all Covid patients, but the facility will now be restricted to the vaccinated alone.

While these decisions have raised questions of individual freedom and choice, the government, at the moment, cannot afford to take chances. Making vaccination mandatory for all is not an option as that would be violative of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. In fact, the Meghalaya High Court on June 23 and the Gauhati High Court on July 2 issued two significant orders that nullified the efforts of the Meghalaya and Mizoram governments to make a “vaccine passport” mandatory for adult citizens.

The courts cautioned the governments against discrimination based on vaccine status. In this context, the Kerala government’s decision to insist on periodic RT-PCR tests for the unvaccinated employees, instead of going for any other punitive measure, is a wise move. With the health of lakhs of children at stake, the government is duty-bound to make schools safer in the time of a pandemic. While one can only hope that the measures adopted would encourage people to shun vaccine hesitancy, what is shocking is the lack of scientific temper even among the state’s teacher community. Staying away from vaccination, for religious reasons, is not the lesson a teacher should be imparting.



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