Olesya Astakhova, Polina Nikolskaya
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Masks, tests, distancing and possibly vaccinations: this is how Russian schools prepare for September 1 during a pandemic. Educators fear that at the beginning of the school year they will have to be vaccinated with the new Sputnik V vaccine, the effectiveness and safety of which has not yet been confirmed.
Last week, Moscow clinics began receiving a new vaccine, which is allowed for domestic use, even though the third phase of trials, which includes 40,000 people, only began on Wednesday.
“First of all, we consider it necessary to offer vaccination to those whose work is related to communicating with infected people, these are medical workers, and those on whom the health of children depends are our teachers,” said http://kremlin.ru/events/ president / news / 63877 in mid-August, Minister of Health Mikhail Murashko to President Vladimir Putin.
At the same meeting, Putin said vaccinations should be “entirely voluntary,” but Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said last week that the coronavirus vaccine would be mandatory for the military.
Starting in September, teachers and medical workers will be offered vaccination against the new coronavirus on a voluntary basis, while mass vaccination will start after November-December, Murashko said on Monday.
Russian schools closed in March and switched to a distance learning format, but from September 1, they reopen their doors for students.
As in most countries, lessons, breakfasts, lunches, and school changes will be held on a strict schedule to ensure the social distance needed to prevent coronavirus. The wearing of masks will be mandatory outside of class for teachers. All educators must also be tested for COVID-19 before the start of the school year.
But Russian teachers are intimidated by the prospect of being vaccinated against COVID-19. Many fear that, despite the voluntary format, they will have to get vaccinated to avoid disciplinary action from management.
This month, the Uchitel, an interregional trade union of educators, launched an online petition demanding not to start vaccination against coronavirus in Russia until all stages of clinical trials are completed.
“If the federal authorities decide to start mass vaccination against coronavirus this fall, teachers and doctors will actually become an experimental group for testing the vaccine,” it says. “Pressure is likely to be put on school principals and principals to convince (read: 'find ways to get') all workers to get vaccinated.”
So far, 1,400 people have signed the petition, an online counter shows.
Union co-chair Marina Balueva, an English teacher from St. Petersburg, said she was unaware of formal or informal orders for teachers to participate in vaccinations.
“It is possible that there will be such an oral order that you don’t want to, you don’t like it, you can quit. Now this form is very often used,” she replies when asked about the appearance of the petition.
She draws parallels with subbotniks in schools on weekends, noting that they are also voluntary, “but they are followed by some kind of repression.” “I didn’t go with the team, didn’t go to a meeting with the director, and so on. The teacher is completely dependent… In practice, voluntary things are often forced,” Balueva said.
Leonid Perlov, a geography teacher from Moscow and Baluyeva's unionist, also signed the petition, despite retiring this year.
“I am afraid that if vaccination is offered in a voluntary-compulsory form, teachers will simply be denied access to work. If you don't want to, don't get vaccinated, please,” he said. “I am against such experiments with health. Teachers are the same people, like everyone else, the teacher's body does not have any special properties.”
Dmitry Kazakov, a history and social science teacher from Pavlovo in the Nizhny Novgorod region, said that although there were no offers of coronavirus vaccination at his school, he would be scared to administer the vaccine until all tests were completed. Kazakov also signed the petition.
“Do I need to be additionally vaccinated, to carry some kind of threat to myself with an unexplored vaccine? Let's say I'm scared, I wouldn't really want to,” he said. “But there are recommendations that cannot be refused.”
A QUESTION OF TRUST
Two teachers at a Moscow school told Reuters that management had asked about 80 employees to be vaccinated against the new coronavirus. About 20 teachers have agreed to be vaccinated and are already undergoing a medical examination in front of her in a Moscow clinic, they say.
“Earlier (at school) they collected lists of those wishing to be vaccinated against COVID, I gave in, but now I am thinking, I have a lot of sores, maybe I can get a medical treatment, because the age is not the same to experiment on myself,” said 58-year-old Larisa Ivanovna.
The second teacher confirmed the vaccination schedule. Both teachers refused to give their names, as they are afraid of problems at work for talking to media representatives.
Larisa Ivanovna says that while the authorities did not put pressure on her, she applied herself to the vaccination lists. But she decided to become a volunteer, because she is afraid of losing her job in the future.
Seven other teachers from different schools in Moscow told Reuters that they have not yet been offered volunteers and vaccinations against COVID-19.
But one of them – the teacher of the Russian language Valentina Sergeevna, who also asked not to give her last name, is sure that the offer will come soon.
“We are sure that we will be driven for the vaccine (against COVID) and with the flu, as always on a voluntary basis,” she said.
Russia is the first country to receive a license for a COVID-19 vaccine, naming it Sputnik V after the world's first satellite launched by the Soviet Union. But Western experts warn against using it until all internationally approved testing and registration measures have been taken.
Russia calls criticism an information war and says the vaccine is safe and effective. Nevertheless, many citizens are wary of it.
“We have not yet offered (to be vaccinated), we are all looking forward to this moment and with horror … Just what they say now, so to speak on the sidelines, about what kind of vaccination it is, I am (her) afraid. I don't really trust our state, I don't expect anything good from them and nothing good can come from them at all, “said a teacher from another Moscow school.
A health ministry spokesman responded to Reuters' inquiry that vaccinations would only be carried out on a voluntary basis. For other questions, he asked to contact the Ministry of Education and the Moscow City Health Department.
“Only volunteers take part in post-registration trials of the COVID-19 vaccine. Everyone makes a decision on their own. There is no coercion from the schools, and accordingly, no administrative measures are applied to teachers,” the Moscow Department of Health said in response to the request.
The Ministry of Education did not respond to the request at the time of publication.
(With the participation of Daria Korsunskaya, Maria Tsvetkova, Maria Vasilyeva. Edited by Ekaterina Golubkova and Anton Zverev)