During the Parliament Session on 10 January 2022, Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Mr Leong Mun Wai stepped up to the podium to question the Minister of Education why Vaccination-Differentiated Safety Measures (VDS) were being applied on children by teachers through messages he had received from his residents.
Vaccine-Differentiated Measures and Exemption for Children
Before dissecting the issues within Mr Leong’s claims, let’s explain two things for the layman first:
- What are Vaccination-Differentiated Safety Measures?
In essence, they are the protocols that you have been abiding whenever you enter various establishments.
For example, only a maximum of five people can dine-in at a restaurant, entries to shopping malls, supermarkets, cinemas, attractions, and other similar places will only allow fully vaccinated people to enter.
There is also another measure that has been recently added called vaccine validity periods, which reinforces the need for booster shots after the usual two-dose Pfizer-BioNtech/Moderna vaccines and three-dose Sinopharm/Sinovac vaccine regime.
Should an individual be unvaccinated, or should their vaccination validity expire because they weren’t administered their booster shots nine months after the typical vaccine regime, they will be denied entry to many places that follow the VDS measures.
- Why are children exempted from VDS?
Due to the inherent risks of side-effects in vaccines, ranging from mild to severe, even in adults, it has always been a point of debate whether children under the ages of 12 should be vaccinated.
Thus far, only the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine has been proven to be safe for children above the age of five.
Additionally, children will only be given two paediatric doses (10 micrograms), each shot being at least 21 days apart, which is one-third of an adult’s dosage.
This policy to encourage vaccination among children aged 5 to 11 has only been declared by the Multi-Ministry Taskforce on 15 Dec 2021.
The 15 children-specific paediatrician-vaccination centres have only officially started on 5 January 2022 as well.
Even so, children have always been exempted from VDS measures regardless of whether they have been inoculated.
Concerns with Teachers Implementing VDS Measures
Hence, when NCMP Mr Leong Mun Wai stated that he received feedback from his residents that “some teachers are already practicing VDS measures in school”, it was a cause of concern because it is “against government policies”.
In his oral questioning, Mr Leong also mentioned, “There have been strong requests from parents that there should at least be more choices of vaccines…. At least, until non-mRNA vaccines are available for kids.”
In response to Mr Leong’s queries, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing asked Mr Leong if he could provide which teacher in which school was practicing VDS measures on children.
He states that they “have to take the feedback seriously and look into the necessary follow up if possible”.
His answer establishes his stance against the teachers discriminating against students for not being vaccinated yet, since Mr Chan believes that “as far as possible, our students [should] be able to participate in the core curriculum in the school’s activities.”
Mr Chan continues to reiterate the fact that he does not endorse using VDS measures on children but has made caveats for some activities that might be of higher risk of transmitting viruses, hence specific measures might need to be applied for those.
Next, he raises two examples like students who play wind instruments or are in the choir, and students who participate in sport activities that require close physical contact.
Meanwhile, Mr Leong prevaricated when he was asked about the specific details of the feedback, saying that he needed to check his phone for the messages he received from the aforementioned residents.
In other words…need to substantiate.
In conclusion, the Ministry of Education and other Ministries will give precedence to the overall national posture and study how the virus continues to evolve before they adjust their policies accordingly.
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