Uganda plans COVID-19 vaccination in schools as cases start to rise

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Kampala, Uganda | URN | The Ministry of Health is planning to start vaccinating children aged 12 to 17 against COVID-19 as cases start to rise rapidly in schools.

Although the majority of COVID-19 vaccines were initially approved for use in adults aged 18-years and above, an increasing number of vaccines are now also being authorized for use in children. So far, countries have received approval to use Pfizer-BioNTech in children ages 5-15 years old, and full approval to use in people ages 16 years and older

Health minister, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, told this publication that after two years of closure, they don’t plan to send children back home due to infections but use other strategies such as periodic random testing and vaccination to manage transmission.

But she didn’t divulge details of when exactly or which vaccines they are going to use in the exercise.

As of Friday 28, January 2022, a voluntary joint task force comprised of parents, students and scientists formed to ensure quick identification and isolation of cases in schools reported that they had undertaken a pilot study in four schools in Kampala where they picked more than 200 positive cases.

Dr Haruna Kigongo who heads the task force says when they got an alert from one of the schools, they found a sick bay full of children with symptoms consistent with COVID-19. In fact, he says the administration had turned another room into a sick bay to cater for the numbers. At this school, they picked a total of 102 positive cases.

According to the Ministry of Health guidelines, schools are supposed to isolate positive cases, enroll them on treatment and release them once they get a negative test. To do this, they rely on school nurses. But generally, these have so far not been specially trained to offer care for this highly infectious disease like it was for other health workers in the country that underwent training at the beginning of the pandemic.

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Experts are now calling for a mandatory requirement for schools to have nurses that can easily identify and test COVID-19 if they are to quickly isolate cases. A group of laboratory technologists based at Makerere University have already offered to train school nurses in COVID-19 rapid diagnostic testing and mild case management at no cost.

Dr Samuel Majalija, the Deputy Principal at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Bio-security that is spearheading the training told this publication in an interview that the 475 volunteers who have been trained and certified to conduct testing include a few nurses in Kampala schools.

While many of the trained testing personnel have not yet been deployed anywhere or called to volunteer, Aceng said they are strengthening their school surveillance network and will continuously use the trained personnel as the need arises.

Currently, schools are conducting testing at their own initiative and if they are to use the service of the trained volunteers, they have to cater for their logistics such as their transportation and sometimes buy test kits since the team is entirely depending on donations to operate.