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Independent Senator, Dr. Maria Dillon-Remy, during her contribution to the debate on a Motion on Deficiencies in Dealing with Violent Crimes Against Women and Girls at the sitting of the Senate, yesterday.

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Troubled by the collateral effects of leaving unvaccinated students with online learning, Independent Senator Dr Maria Dillon-Remy is appealing to the Ministry of Education to reconsider having face-to-face classes for only the vaccinated.

In her contribution to the debate on the Appropriation (Financial Year-2022) Bill, 2021, Dillon-Remy said, there should be physical school for all students or none.

She said parents did not get enough time to consider vaccinating their children so they could return to physical classrooms.

“I am suggesting that we either have vaccinated and unvaccinated children in school since we know that they all have to be physically distanced, they are have to be wearing masks, they all have to be sanitising their hands, etc. They either should be in school, or they all should be online. I am asking the ministry, please, to reconsider the decision that is being made right now. Think about the children. Not later, right now, according to the calypsonians,” Dillon-Remy said.

On August 11, T&T received a donation of 305,270 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from the United States of America. It was the only vaccine approved for use in children between the ages of 12-17. Dillon-Remy said between then and now was not a long time. And while she is not saying that the government should not encourage parents to vaccinate their children, it is October, and most of the school-age population is not vaccinated.

She noted that the Unified Teachers Association rejected the Ministry’s policy to have teachers carry out face-to-face and online classes and asked Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly to reconsider that decision.

As a paediatrician, Dillon-Remy said she understands the importance of vaccinating children and recommends it to parents. However, she said there are issues with what parents understand and believe. Therefore, children are at the mercy of their parents’ decisions.

“Therefore, what is happening is they are in the middle of a situation where the Government says this and the parents are doing something entirely different.”

She quoted from a CNN article, which stated that there is a perception that COVID-19 was not severe in children. However, it showed that while children are less susceptible, many were hospitalized with the disease. She even referred to a column by Dr David Bratt on October 11, in which he opined that children should be out to school since the disease was not that severe in children.

However, Dillon-Remy stated findings from a report from a pediatric hospital in Mt Hope where there have been two deaths, so far, from COVID-19 and 56 cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome. Hence, she understands the consideration for children in a face-to-face setting.

Vaccinated students in forms four, five and six are already back in the physical classrooms. Dillon said these students are in a time-sensitive situation. If they do not submit their School-Based Assessments in time, the Caribbean Examination Council will not wait for them to get accustomed to the situation here.

She believes the $6.86 billion allocation to education is necessary as there are additional needs to sanitise, ensure physical distancing and internet access in schools.