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Gov't Shelves Plan to Vaccinate Learners Below 18 Years

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The government then had placed its hopes on donations of Pfizer vaccine from the United States of America. The idea which was first communicated by President, Yoweri Kaguta during one of his addresses on the COVID-19 pandemic became one of the conditions for the re-opening of schools.
A learners wearing a facial mask
The government has backtracked on its plans to vaccinate learners below 18 years of age as earlier announced. In the past, the ministries of Education and health had proposed to vaccinate all learners aged 12 and above using the Pfizer-Biotech vaccine, which is approved for use among children of this age group.  

The government then had placed its hopes on donations of Pfizer vaccine from the United States of America. The idea which was first communicated by President, Yoweri Kaguta during one of his addresses on the COVID-19 pandemic became one of the conditions for the re-opening of schools.


However, officials from the Health ministry later intimated that only learners aged 15 years and above would be vaccinated using Pfizer. Now, these plans too look to have been indefinitely shelved, with health ministry officials, saying they only have plans to vaccinate learners aged 18 and above. 

With over 1.6 million doses of the said vaccines already in the country and another 3.4 million doses expected anytime, one would think that this target group could be catered for as earlier planned. Learners in this target group are normally found at the post-primary level and according to estimates from the Ministry of education, they are 1.3 million in number. 

As such, the government would be able to vaccinate all learners in this age group. In an interview earlier this month, the minister of education in charge of primary health, Dr Joyce Moriku Kaducu said discussions were still ongoing on the vaccination of learners. She intimated that if all fails, they would concentrate on vaccinating learners with co-morbidities. 

"There are learners that we want to get vaccinated because they have co-morbidities and are highly susceptible to the disease. Such learners will be vaccinated," she said. However, officials from the health ministry said that they have no clearly set plans to vaccinate any learner below the age of 18 years. 

Dr Alfred Driwale, the programme manager of the Uganda National Expanded Programme on Immunization, says that they are going to stick to their original vaccination plan. "We have never said we will vaccinate learners below the age of 18. Our plan had always been clear that we are targeting people aged 18 and above and our priority is health workers, teachers, security personnel, people with co-morbidities and the elderly," Driwale said.

When asked whether the education ministry was still pushing for the vaccination of learners, Dr John Muyingo told URN that they would comply with what officials from the health ministry decide. "For us, we are asking the Ministry of Health to immunize our people and I think they immunize them according to the vaccines they have. We have no control over the vaccines coming into the country and we mobilise the groups that they have told us," Minister Muyingo said.

The issue of vaccinating learners had been contentious between both ministries. In August, the two ministries clashed over the vaccination of learners in medical institutions. While the Education Ministry issued a circular directing the vaccination of learners at all institutions before resuming classes, the office in charge of the vaccination programme in the entire country said the available vaccines at the time were not enough for such an exercise.

Driwale wanted the government to follow their earlier plan that was approved by the World Health Organisation prior to the arrival of the vaccines. A source from the health ministry who preferred to remain anonymous said the vaccination of learners is not the government's priority now. 

  "Right now, we are more focused on vaccinating all Ugandans. We are looking for over 30 million vaccines to vaccinate the target of 22 million people. Children are our least priority now since even science shows that they are less susceptible to being infected," the source said.



Vaccinating priority groups, however, is not the only impediment to vaccinating learners. The Pfizer vaccines need to be stored at -20 degrees Celsius. As such, they require specialised cold chain equipment that is easily used in urban areas. Using them in hard to reach rural areas under these conditions would be challenging.

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