Teachers get COVID-19 jabs ahead of school reopening in Turkey

Mass vaccination against the coronavirus started on Wednesday for teachers, as Turkey counts down to the reopening of most schools next week. Minister of National Education Ziya Selçuk was among the first to receive a COVID-19 shot and said more than 1.2 million people working at schools across the country will be inoculated.

Rural schools opened on Feb. 15 for in-person education while primary schools and classes for eighth and 12th graders all across Turkey will resume on March 1. The fate of the other grades is still unclear.

With vaccination, authorities hope to provide a safe environment for teachers and students who were forced to switch to online classes since last year, except for a brief reopening last year.

Selçuk, a former teacher, joined the staff of a primary school in the northern province of Çorum for vaccination. “Teachers can make vaccine appointments online or by sending a text message (to the health authority in charge of vaccinations) to get an appointment,” Selçuk told reporters.

The pandemic trends significantly dropped except for occasional fluctuations since the schools were closed, but strict measures remain in place. The reopening will coincide with the date determined for a normalization process based on each province’s performance in curbing the outbreak. “Since the outbreak started, we took necessary measures based on guidelines. All our schools follow the rules. Moreover, we benefited from production of sanitary equipment at vocational schools and lifelong learning centers. We have enough supplies, thanks to those places, to ensure in-person education without problems,” Selçuk said. Schools are required to receive a certificate after a string of inspections that prove they adhere to coronavirus rules, from social distancing in classrooms to hygiene standards (installation of sanitizing devices, proper ventilation and similar measures). “Many countries reopen schools, but we did not hear that any of them vaccinated all teachers before reopening,” Selçuk said.

Although March 1 was selected as the date for the reopening, media reports say this can be postponed or be limited in places with a high number of cases. Turkey follows a policy of reopening on a regional basis that allows each province to lift restrictions if the number of cases is low. Similarly, the decision to reopen schools or keep them shut will be the responsibility of the governorates, rather than the ministry. A report from Sabah newspaper says that schools would be open for two days a week and governorates will decide whether to open them for five days. Under the current plans, two days of classes will be complemented with live online classes for the other days of the week.

After the outbreak made its foray into Turkey in March 2020, the Ministry of National Education expanded its Education Information Network (EBA), an education portal, to boost online education. Teachers can connect with students through EBA and online classes via other apps while TV stations were established for remote classes. The country also delivered tablet computers to thousands of students without access to computers or the internet to support remote education.

The country started the vaccination process in January with the inactive vaccine CoronaVac, developed by China’s Sinovac. Health care workers were first to be inoculated. This month, the process began for inoculation with second doses. Apart from health care workers, senior citizens, staff at nursing homes and staff at pharmacies were vaccinated. As of Wednesday, vaccinations reached more than 7.6 million people so far. The Health Ministry now switched to the second stage in the vaccination plan with the inoculation of teachers and other members of the public sector, including soldiers, police officers and people working in critical jobs. Their vaccination will be followed with inoculation of people between the ages of 50 and 64. The youngest citizens or those between the ages of 18 and 29 will be the last to be administered COVID-19 shots while there is no vaccination plan for children.