The ministry of education continues to encourage teachers and all staff members in the education fraternity to get vaccinated but stressed that vaccination continues to be voluntary.
In an interview with New Era, the executive director of the education ministry, Sanet Steenkamp, encouraged teachers to open themselves up to correct and scientific information, and to dispel all the myths, taboos and the stigma that goes around covid-19.
Steenkamp maintains that the vaccination remains voluntary, and the decision is not that of the ministry to make vaccination mandatory. “If there is a need, such decision will be discussed in the various technical committees – and then, of course, on a national level at this stage. Our message is consistent: vaccination as it has been proven. Reduce serious illnesses, reduce the risk of being hospitalised, and this compelling evidence that vaccinations reduce death rates,” said Steenkamp.
This was in response to an article by New Era about teachers and eligible learners in the Oshikoto region being hesitant to get vaccinated. Acting inspector for the Omuthiya circuit Thomas Uupindi said the cluster has about 440 teachers, but only 40 have been vaccinated.
Namibia has so far given 212 069 people their first doses, while 112 853 have received their second doses of the available Sinopharm and AstraZeneca doses. Vaccine hesitancy, mainly driven by misinformation and conspiracy theories, have frustrated government’s vaccine rollout plans.
“The country has been very proactive in availing vaccines, addressing vaccine hesitancy and ensuring advocacy around vaccination. The Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture, along with Namibia National Teachers Union (Nantu), have put in place specific strategies, advocacy campaigns and engagement with teachers across the country, irrespective of where they are registered as union members, availing correct and consistent information around and scientific information around vaccines,” she said.
Steenkamp further refutes allegations made by Teachers Union of Namibia’s (TUN) secretary general Mahongora Kavihuha that the ministry politicised the vaccination process and now has to deal with the fallout.
Kavihuha earlier said they were not consulted as representatives of the teachers on how the vaccination could be carried out, and that the education ministry wants to impose its decisions. However, Steenkamp said, “over the past three-four months, Oshikoto region was one of the hardest hit regions and also the lowest in terms of vaccination.
So, clearly, there’s room for the political leaders in the region and leaders in the regional council to ensure more awareness raising takes place, and that there is visible leadership in terms of vaccination. “I cannot see how the issue of advocacy, encouraging and urging teachers and every staff member in the education fraternity can be politicised. Our aim in our mandate is to ensure that our staff members are taken care of; their well-being is prioritised,” she said.
To ensure teachers are vaccinated, Steenkamp further said the ministry of education, along with the ministry of health, will continue to share as many vaccination points as possible to the teachers as well as all the learners over 18.
“Our priority right now is our teachers and learners. As much as it is a voluntary issue, we must keep in mind that community transmission will not go away. We do not have herd immunity as a country as yet,” she said.