“None of us is safe until we are all safe”
– Antonio Guterres, UN secretary-general, Janaury 2021
At the news of my colleagues being given their vaccination jabs for Covid-19, I very nearly ran to the open window of my office in school to shout for joy at the passing traffic on Dacia Boulevard. It’s been that sort of pandemic.
Yet, for all the positives that the vaccination programmes brings – whenever it may be that your staff are fully vaccinated – there are questions too that school leaders must think about and answer.
Here are some of the most pressing issues that I have encountered and how we are dealing with them.
How do we tackle false stories around vaccines with parents, pupils and staff?
We are using the expertise in our community again, such as the WHO, as we did in 2020, as well as creating special public information events (online, of course) with epidemiologist experts from the local hospitals.
We are also inviting our local colleagues in other schools to join us and calling the sessions “Myth-busting Vaccination Disinformation”.
It is crucial to tackle vaccine hesitation in schools, workplaces and families constructively. What I have found useful with my own school community is this general advice:
- Give people space and listen to their concerns.
- Cite scientific data.
- Share and show why we are doing this.
Will it change who we can have service contracts and do business with?
We could also be forced to choose only external service providers whose staff are vaccinated.
International schools employ a lot of local ancillary staff as cleaners, for catering, for the grounds and for security. This is both a business and a moral question we now face without a simple answer.
What if vaccines become compulsory and/or a condition of employment?
This question is going to occupy a lot of time for school leaders, governors and legal teams in the coming months.
The short answer is going to be that choosing a vaccination is an individual choice. But the ruling from the European Convention on Human Rights, stating that vaccinations can be obligatory in certain circumstances, certainly adds a wider debate for those of us in Europe. Some countries may also make it a requisite to work in schools in the future.
We also know that international teachers often have to have a health check and a range of vaccinations for work visas in certain parts of the world.
Will a Covid-19 vaccination one day not be any different from having proof of your TB or yellow fever jabs? Will you need a vaccine passport to travel to and from your international school and home country?
How long will they last?
There is no real answer here as of yet but it needs to be in our thinking in case we completely ease up and believe the current stage of vaccinations and Covid-19 is the final one.
The virus' mutatations into new variants has already been blamed for the third wave that has hit mainland Europe in 2021 and restrictions reintroduced.
Will we still keep masks and other measures?
A longitudinal study in the USA, based on 20 US colleges, may help provide the answer here later in 2021. The two randomised control groups are being used to study the effects on i) vaccine effectiveness on the individual being immune, and ii) vaccine transmission between individuals and groups. The latter is the key to ending the pandemic.
I suspect there are more twists and turns here and for now, even with staff vaccinated, we will be keeping our safe measures in school, including wearing masks.
We need to see the impact, efficacy and evidence of such studies and staff being vaccinated back with children in school together over a period of time.
One thing we did note in our school communities this winter with wearing masks and having safe measures was that flu and cold case numbers were virtually non-existent. We are not anticipating children being vaccinated at this moment but that is surely only a matter of time.
For school communities and school leaders all over the world, there is now another mindset shift needed and the next adaptation needed to plan for staff vaccinations so schools have a better chance of staying physically open.
What this may entail for the likely third academic year in the pandemic is unclear, but we hope it could be the last year that mirrors 2020-21.
Rob Ford is director of the Heritage International School, Chisinau, Moldova