At the GEMS Education network, more than 42,000 students are eligible for the jabs.
UAE students aged 12 and above have started taking their Pfizer-BioNTech jabs as schools launch massive vaccination drives across the country.
Some educational institutions have booked hotel venues for the vaccinations, while others are working with healthcare facilities to make the process as convenient as possible for their students.
Schools are hopeful that with students and staff vaccinated, they could achieve near-100 per cent physical attendance on their campuses in September, when the next academic year begins.
At the GEMS Education network, more than 42,000 students are eligible for the jabs and 8,000 are set to get theirs this week, said Elmarie Venter, chief operations and marketing officer of the group. Some 1,800 students have already been vaccinated.
The school operator is also working with the authorities in Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah to introduce a similar campaign for students there.
For these schools, work will continue throughout the summer break to keep campuses safe. “We are delighted to welcome 1,600 new teachers in August. These new teachers will also be vaccinated to join 14,700 GEMS teachers and school support staff who have already received the vaccine. Our number one priority will always be the health and safety of our school communities and we firmly believe that with this campaign of vaccinations for all students aged 12 and over, we can take a big step towards all our pupils safely returning to the classroom. We are thankful for the support that our parents have provided throughout this drive,” added Venter.
Other school groups organising similar initiatives reiterate that such drives would boost parents’ confidence in sending kids back to classrooms.
Delhi Private School Dubai has started its vaccination drive on May 21 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel and it will continue until May 27, said Rashmi Nandkeolyar, principal and director.
“We have booked 2,300 vaccines to be administered to our students above 12 years of age. This vaccination drive will make every student, family, school and the society at large safer. It will definitely mean that parents will feel secure in sending their children to the campus,” Nandkeolyar said.
Some schools are busy creating strategies to educate parents about the importance of getting kids vaccinated.
Gavin Hyatt, head of operations for Taaleem Group, said: “We are actively exploring opportunities to work with vaccination centres to drive this campaign forward. Once these agreements are in place, we will make our students and their parents aware of the options available and encourage them to participate in this immunisation initiative. We will be actively encouraging our students to get vaccinated and will support our parent community with information so that they will be able to make the best decisions for their children and their families.”
Since vaccinations for 12-year-olds were introduced, positive changes have already been observed in the community, Hyatt said. “These changes have been seen in less anxious students and an increased level of confidence from parents in the safety of our schools.”
Muhammad Ali Kottakkulam, principal of Gulf Indian High School, added: “Gulf Indian High School has devised an action plan to encourage Covid vaccinations for students who are 12 and above. These inoculation drives include sessions for students and parents of these age group by the school Health and Safety Team to educate them on Covid vaccines suitable for this age group, procedure to book for vaccinations, risk concerns, precautions and after-vaccination care so as to give a clear and scientific outlook and encourage them to proceed for the same. We are hopeful that the rigorous efforts of the authorities will pave the way for an earlier and safe return of students back to school in full swing.”
Parents of students who have opted for onsite classes hail the schools’ and the authorities’ initiative to bring jabs closer to the community.
Michael Pantoja, a parent at GEMS Winchester School – Dubai, said: “The vaccine drive has been very convenient for us as a family. We had been looking around for where to get our kids vaccinated so it’s really good that this has provided this for us. My sons have been learning online 100 per cent this year, but we were looking to send them back provided that they have the vaccine, so this is a great opportunity for us.”
Students also felt an increased sense of security and optimism, knowing that a larger proportion of their schoolmates will be vaccinated before the new academic year.
Saira Sambhar, Year 9 student at GEMS Wellington International School, said: “I feel really lucky to be able to get the vaccine through our school. In some countries, even the adults don’t have the vaccine yet, and we do. I’m looking forward to the next academic year and not feeling anxious or worrying that people might be sick.”