TTUTA president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas

The decision to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus remains a personal choice – and while the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) is heartened that all educators are being allowed to access the vaccine if they are desirous, officials have said any move to force them into compliance is illegal.

TTUTA President Antonia Tekah-De Freitas yesterday stressed, “Vaccination is but a small part in the plan for the reopening and repopulation of schools, and therefore we will want further discussion and collaboration with the Ministry of Education on all aspects of the reopening.”

Standing ready as the Representative Majority Union (RMU) to meet with government stakeholders in the next few weeks, Tekah-De Freitas said no definitive discussions have been had regarding the physical reopening of schools and/or resumption of classroom teaching and learning.

The new academic year 2021/2022 will begin on September 6 when classes are scheduled to resume.

Her comments came after Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley expressed disappointment on Thursday that more teachers have not come forward to be vaccinated.

While the TTUTA head steered clear of responding to Dr Rowley directly, she said, “We asked for teachers to be allowed access to the vaccine and that is happening.”

However, she outlined some of the challenges they are facing as they had been, “Receiving late notifications from the Ministry of Education and therefore, they have not been able to turn up for what would be the possible dates for vaccination as designated.”

Meanwhile, she added that some others “had been accessing the vaccination programme through other mechanisms such as when corporate entities invited their workers and family members to be vaccinated, so those who want to be vaccinated have been seizing the opportunity to do so.”

Asked what was TTUTA’s official position regarding any move to force teachers to become vaccinated so that schools can be reopened, Tekah-De Freitas said this would be illegal.

“Any attempt to force anyone to be vaccinated as a condition for return to work at this time is illegal,” she stated.

She urged the State and corporate T&T to engage in discussions as, “Mandatory vaccination is something that will have to go through Cabinet and hopefully, that will only take place after discussions with stakeholders and the different entities in society, including trade unions.”

She said, “We await discussions on this but it is a personal choice.”

Of the 5,000 vaccines that were allocated to the MOE prior to the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam on July 1, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said 4,125 names had been submitted as persons who would have been involved in the administration of that exam, had come forward to be vaccinated.

Further to this, three weeks ago the Ministry of Health announced the allocation of an additional 10,000 COVID-19 vaccines for teachers, which followed the arrival of 800,000 Sinopharm shots.

Last Tuesday, the Education Ministry announced that arrangements were being made to ensure that both teaching and non-teaching staff would be vaccinated ahead of the scheduled reopening of schools in September.

The offer has also been extended to students over 18.