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Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley speaks during yesterday press conference at Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s as Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh looks on.

Rishard [email protected]

Teachers will be among the first groups of citizens to receive the much anticipated COVID-19 vaccine when it reaches our shores.

The revelation came from Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh during a press conference with the Prime Minister yesterday.

It comes as the Government proceeds as planned with its partial reopening of schools on Monday. The country is expected to receive the first batch of 100,000 to 120,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine from the COVAX facility by early March.

First on the list to receive the shots are frontline healthcare workers such as those working in clinics, accident and emergency departments and with COVID-19 patients. They would be followed by those receiving care for non-communicable diseases within the public sector and the elderly in long-stay homes. Following these segments, teachers would be among essential workers to receive it. “Those are workers that we need to keep the country running. Those would be your protective services, police…fire, Coast Guard, Army, sanitation, teachers. Vaccinating our teachers now becomes important as you have heard the honourable education minister say we are starting on Monday with the partial reopening of schools,” Deyalsingh said.

The Ministry of Health’s epidemiological unit technical director Dr Avery Hinds explained that the spike coming out of the holiday season did not take root and the average daily caseload was in decline.

This is the basis on which Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley declared that “we have escaped the worst.” With this in mind, he said conditions were favourable at this time to allow schools to reopen. However, he admitted that officials are nervous about the reopening but assured that it would be closely monitored. “If the situation changes where the risk increases then we’ll have to make a decision. Do we expose ourselves to that increase risk?” In July, the Ministry of Education attempted to return standard five students to classes to prepare for the upcoming Secondary Entrance Assessment. However, it was short-lived after there were outbreaks in several schools with over 10 needing to be closed for sanitisation. Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram said this time would be different. He said that during the first attempt, there were “a number of things in the mix” which have now changed. For instance, he said there was activity surrounding the general election. He also said that classes were filled with students who did not wear masks. “What we anticipate with these children (in forms) four, five, six… they’d come out and do their SBAs (School-Based Assessments) and they’d come out and do their labs. And they’d do so in smaller groups, managed throughout the process so they may not be there for the entire day and they’d be masked throughout their interactions,” he said. Meanwhile, a study out of the University of Oxford, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, suggests the AstraZeneca vaccine could significantly prevent transmission of the virus.

This, Deyalsingh believes, would make a “very positive difference” in the country’s COVID-19 fight.

He said there isn’t a firm timeline set in stone as yet for when a sufficient portion of the population should be vaccinated to generate herd immunity. However, he said the government is hoping for this target to be met by middle 2023. One of the largest challenges to the vaccination drive would be the supply of the doses as countries try to grab up vaccines for themselves.