COVAX vaccines lead drive to reopen Uganda’s schools
Uganda's government is on a mission to vaccinate teachers so that schools across the country can finally reopen.
28 September 2021 – by Evelyn Lirri
“I want to get back into the classroom as soon as possible,” says Josephine Nakaayi, shortly after receiving her COVID-19 jab in the heart of Kampala. Nakaayi, a teacher at City Primary School, is part of a new push by the government to get teachers and school support staff across the country vaccinated, paving the way for the resumption of in-person teaching and learning.
In Uganda, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disruptive impact on teaching and learning, as schools have remained closed for most of the past 18 months.
“It has been tough for teachers, especially for those of us who teach in private schools. We have not received any payments. Any effort that will enable us to go back to work is welcome,” says Nakaayi, who has been teaching for seven years.
Like Nakaayi, Niwagaba Rugyema, a support staff worker at Bright Junior primary school, was eager to get vaccinated. With schools closed, he says, he has had to find part-time employment as a guard to make ends meet. But he is ready to return to school once it reopens.
“I have waited for this moment for a long time. We have been hearing about vaccines but when we go to the facilities, they say only those due for the second dose are eligible. But this time, I am happy I have got the vaccine,” says Rugyema.
In Uganda, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disruptive impact on teaching and learning, as schools have remained closed for most of the past 18 months. Schools and other institutions of learning were first closed in March 2020 when the country registered its first cases of COVID-19. Although many reopened in October 2020, a second wave of infections forced the government to close schools again in May 2021. They remain closed today.
“Vaccinating teachers and support staff will be critical for schools to reopen safely,” says Dr Alfred Driwale, the programme manager for the Uganda National Expanded Programme on Immunisation (UNEPI).
Under the government’s vaccination rollout plan, health workers, security personnel, teachers (including school support staff) and persons above the age of 50 with co-morbidities have been targeted in this first phase.
And with more vaccines becoming available, Dr Driwale says it has become possible to get a significant number of teachers vaccinated before schools re-open.
Since March 2021, Uganda has received 4.58 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine through the COVAX Facility. The government’s target is to vaccinate at least 550,000 teachers and support staff. So far, the Ministry of Health states that 273,930 teachers have received the first dose while 88,825 are fully vaccinated.
However, the government has also been grappling with misinformation and hesitancy among some individuals, which has contributed to the slow uptake of vaccines.
Rehema Faridah, a teacher at Rosa Kindergarten admits, “My initial fear was the side effects. But, when I saw my colleagues being vaccinated and they didn’t develop side effects, I was convinced to get the jab. In fact, I have been calling my workmates to get vaccinated and many have already done so.”