Following the government’s decision to give priority to public education workers in the vaccination plan and to reopen schools and kindergartens on the 19th of April, many deem the decision ill-considered, and dangerous. The inoculation of teachers will start this week but whether they receive sufficient protection from the first jab by the second half of the next month remains highly debated.
Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, announced last Thursday that the government finally decided to prioritize teachers in Hungary’s vaccination plan and inoculate them before the gradual reopening of the country.
The prioritezed vaccination of teachers has long been on the agenda, but the accelerated opening of schools surprised many.
Details about the decision only came to light a day later when state secretary responsible for public education, Zoltán Maruzsa, informed the press about the planned process. A letter sent to public education institutions on the same day by Human Resources Minister, Miklós Kásler, also surfaced, containing some important information as well.
According to Maruzsa, until Thursday, 55 percent of teachers working in public education (102,000 people) had registered for vaccination. 20,000 of them have already received their first jab, while the inoculation of the remaining 82,000 will start this week. In addition, 30,000 people working in secondary vocational schools and 13,000 nursery school workers are also entitled to the vaccine. Those teachers who had not registered until last Thursday were given only a few days to do so, otherwise they will be exluded from the list.
Technical problems surround registration
A major problem with the vaccination of teachers was the reported issues around the central registration system. According to press reports, several teachers who have in fact already registered for the coronavirus vaccination received a message warning them to register for the vaccine days before the deadline. As it can take up to several days for an application to be processed, some teachers might not receive the vaccination due to the technical issue.
Two phase vaccination
We also know that the vaccination will conclude in two phases. Inoculation of teachers, kindergarten, and nursery workers who registered by March 24th will start this week on April 1st. Those who registered later but at the latest by March 29th, is scheduled to receive their shot in the first days following Easter.
It was also revealed on Tuesday that public education workers will be inoculated with the Pfizer-Biotech vaccine.
75 percent of public education workers register for priority inoculation
Human resources minister, Miklós Kásler, said on Wednesday that 75 percent of teachers and public education workers have submitted their registration for the coronavirus vaccination, while 32,000 of them have already received at least their first jab. According to Kásler, 80,000 public education employees will be inoculated in the first phase.
Date of Schools’ Reopening Set in Stone by Gov’t
On Saturday, three decrees were issued which carved some of the previously emphasized conditions into stone. These legal provisions stipulate, among other things, the maintaining of the current restrictions until April 8th, the reopening of schools on April 19th, and set the rules for the first stage of Hungary’s gradual reopening, on the condition that 2.5 million people receive their first jab.
Many Fear Rushed Reopening Will Result in More Infections, Deaths
The government’s decision proves to be highly controversial and raises many concerns.
Most important of these is that the majority of public education workers who are to be vaccinated will not receive the necessary level of protection by the time schools reopen their doors on April 19th.
Before schools reopen, all staff needs to be vaccinated and completely protected against the coronavirus, trade unions and experts announced in a joint statement on Tuesday.
According to the statement, workers in the education sector and many healthcare professionals have raised “concerns and fears” about the resolution stating that students and teachers must return to classrooms by April 19th, only a few days after teachers receive their first jabs.
It added that Hungary’s Chief Medical Officer had regularly warned people not to feel protected from the virus after their first shot because it might take two or three weeks for the immune system to produce an adequate response.
The trade unions and experts asked the government to observe these guidelines and ensure safe working conditions for all staff in the education system.
Chief Medical Officer to teachers: Do not be afraid
In reaction to the growing unease, Chief Medical Officer, Cecília Müller, emphasized that significant protection already develops some time after the first dose of the vaccine, so teachers “don’t have to be afraid” to continue onsite teaching. However, she did not go into detail regarding how many days are needed. Previously, she mentioned that it takes 2-3 weeks after the second dose to reach full protection. However, a few days later, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said only one shot and 8-9 days are enough.
Pfizer vaccines effective after 14 days
The Pfizer vaccines, which according to the Chief Medical Officer will be used for the inoculation of teachers, provide highly effective protection, a new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.
“At least 14 days after the first dose but before the second dose, vaccines were 80% protective,” according to the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
However, as protection requires the above-mentioned 14-15 days to develop, only teachers who receive the vaccine on April 1st can actually “feel at ease.” In their case, they will already be somewhat protected by the time schools open on the 19th. In contrast, those who receive the vaccine only after Easter, on April 6th or 7th, will only be protected by April 21-22.
Featured photo by Zoltán Balogh/MTI