Singapore MOE stresses Covid-19 vaccination programme voluntary after some parents raise concerns about feeling pressured

Students at a vaccination centre set up at the Institute of Technical Education College West in Chua Chu Kang on June 7, 2021. — TODAY pic
Students at a vaccination centre set up at the Institute of Technical Education College West in Chua Chu Kang on June 7, 2021. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, June 21 — The Ministry of Education (MOE) has come out to reassure parents that only those who wish for their children to be vaccinated against Covid-19 can indicate their interest to opt in for the national exercise via an online form issued by the ministry.

In response to TODAY’s queries, it added on Friday (June 18) that parents who want to sit out the exercise are not required to submit a blank consent form to indicate their wish to opt out of the programme.

Maliki Osman, Second Minister for Education, had said during an update on the vaccination programme across schools earlier this week that MOE has plans to facilitate ferrying students to vaccination centres when the schools reopen after the June holidays.

To do so, the ministry will be assisting parents in booking slots at its vaccination centres as a one-off exercise to help students who are interested in getting jabbed but have not yet booked an appointment or require additional support to do so.

Parents were informed of these plans in a note on the ministry’s Parents Gateway portal.

The ministry’s reply comes after a petition was started by a group of parents who raised concerns over the programme to ferry students to the vaccination centres.

The parents stated in the petition that the lack of an option to opt out of the programme, combined with the fact that the programme is targeted at children who have not yet made an appointment to get inoculated, have given them the impression that the exercise is not voluntary.

The petition also claims that some schools have required students to hand over a blank consent form to indicate their wish to opt out of the programme.

Some parents whom TODAY interviewed said they have also received calls from their children’s teachers asking why they have not booked a vaccine appointment, and when they plan to do so.

They did not want to be named as they did not want their children to be identified by the schools.

Because of these outreach efforts, they said they were feeling pressured to get their children inoculated, even though they have either decided against it, or were still deliberating.

Said one parent of a 12-year-old, who wanted to be known only as Mdm Choo, 41: “They are pushing the agenda so hard that I feel like I can’t breathe.”

Some parents also said they were afraid their children would be singled out for not getting jabbed, and might lose out on school opportunities in the future because of it.

Others were taken aback that schools and teachers have access to information on which students have yet to book a vaccination appointment, as they felt that this should be kept private and confidential.

MOE SAYS...

In response to TODAY’s queries, MOE said the vaccination exercise for students is voluntary and there are no plans to subject students who are not vaccinated to different requirements in schools when they reopen.

As for the plans to ferry children to vaccination centres when schools reopen, MOE said schools will bus students who have not yet booked an appointment via the national appointment system to one of the three Institute of Technical Education College vaccination centres provided their parents have given the necessary consent.

“Students who wish to be vaccinated at a later time, as well as those turning 12 later in the year and would like to be vaccinated, may book their appointments through the national appointment system,” it said.

The ministry added that as part of its outreach efforts, schools may have contacted parents to “ensure that they are aware of the vaccination exercise for students as some parents might not have received the invitation to sign up”.

“Schools would also contact parents to find out if they require additional information or support,” said MOE.

This includes whether they face issues while signing up for an appointment as they are unsure of how to complete the medical declaration form in English, or if they are unable to find a suitable time slot for their child, said the ministry.

When informed of MOE’s response, most of the parents said they felt reassured and relieved by the confirmation from the ministry that the vaccination exercise is voluntary.

However, some parents said they were still concerned that their children could be influenced by peer pressure when school reopens.

“I will have to wait until Term 3 to start as that is when we will know how the situation will be,” said one parent who wanted to be known only as Mrs Chua. She has two children aged 17 and 15. — TODAY

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