Students turned away on first day of school

The Minister of Education, Sports and Culture, Loau Keneti Sio, is holding firm on excluding children without proof-of-vaccinations from school despite pupils being turned away on the first day of school on Monday. 

Parents have complained that records have been difficult or impossible to obtain. 

During a press conference on Monday, Minister Loau shut down a question implying that students might need to attend school without proof-of-vaccination cards due to shortages. 

"Do not say that," the Minister said.

"Do not say that, because that is why parents think: 'Let's just go'.

"The sure thing is, a [vaccination] card must be shown before going into a classroom. Because once we say something like that, the parents will sit around not going to get [children's vaccination records]."

Last week, Savai'i's Tuasivi and Safotu District Hospitals ran out of vaccination cards. Parents were told by hospital officials that new cards would not be ready until the day of the new school year. 

Other parents complained of long waiting times; being required to travel long distances to obtain records; and being required to remember the date of their children's vaccinations as hospitals enforced inconsistent record-keeping policies.

On Monday, the first day of the school year for 2020, a variety of schools told the Samoa Observer that they were turning away students in order to remain compliant with the law. 

Vaivase Primary School Principal, Sa'o Tolai, said the school had parents come in with written notes attesting to their child's vaccination status but had to be turned away. 

"I told them that I too can write up something like that saying that my child has been vaccinated," she said.

The Principal said that children required officially stamped Government-issued yellow proof-of-vaccination cards were being turned away. 

Exemptions were made only for students who had received their vaccinations overseas and had registered letters from doctors. 

"Confirmation letters from overseas as proof of vaccination are accepted to enroll children into classes," Ms. Tolai said.

The Samoa Observer was also told that Leififi College turned away students.

Asked about the issue the shortage, a shocked Loau responded with "Jesus!" 

Loau insisted that students "should not" be allowed in school without proof-of-vaccination.

But the Minister then told reporters that the Director General of the Ministry of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, would be in a better position to provide answers. 

Multiple attempts to get a comment from Leausa regarding the issue have been either unsuccessful or denied.

The recently-passed Infants Amendment Act (No. 2) 2019 prohibits schools from enrolling students without complete vaccination records. Principals who contravene the order can face fines of up to $10,000.

Last week the Deputy Director of Public Health, Tagaloa Dr. Robert Thomsen, said elements of the legislation requiring "complete" vaccination records were not yet able to be fulfilled by parents.

“In order for a child to have all its required immunisation to be updated it takes up to seven months to catch up [on] all the required immunisation[s]," he said. 

On Monday, a source at theTuasivi Hospital confirmed cards had arrived, but phone calls to Safotu Hospital were not returned.

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