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Bengal plans mass vaccination of students before reopening colleges

A file photo of students from Siliguri Women's College in West Bengal stand in a queue to get their dose of Covishield vaccine.   | Photo Credit: AFP

West Bengal intends carrying out mass vaccination of students with the aim of reopening colleges and universities — a moved welcomed by teachers and students alike. They have remained closed since March 2020 due to the pandemic.

“With a view of possible restarting of offline instructions in colleges and universities, it has been decided to vaccinate all eligible students of such higher education institutions at the earliest possible,” the Health and Family Welfare Secretary wrote in a letter to district Magistrates and medical officers on Wednesday.

“This vaccination drive will be organised by the Health and Family Welfare Department in coordination with the Higher Education Department. Accordingly, you are directed to hold necessary coordination meetings with all stakeholders including representatives of colleges/universities for planning early COVID-19 vaccination of these students,” the letter said.

According to the official, the vaccination drive could be carried out either at the existing vaccination centres or at the campuses of educational institutions subject to the fulfilment of the criteria of a vaccination centre.

A welcome development

“This is indeed a welcome development. A large section of our students come from areas and financial backgrounds which would make vaccination difficult for them to afford. Instead of keeping everything closed down for long periods, the government now appears to be contemplating opening up without putting the students at risk, and deserves to be commended for this decision. Hopefully it would, in the near future, extend the scope of this decision to apply for the middle and senior school levels also,” said Prof. Kingshuk Chatterjee of the University of Calcutta.

Dr. Rumpa Das, principal of Maheshtala College, said: “It’s a very relevant and timely intervention to ensure the health security of our youth. Higher education institutions in the State have been cooperating and shall cooperate with the health machinery. This is also a very happy move to welcome back students who have been away from their favourite campuses for a long time. It strengthens solidarity and highlights the symbiotic bond between society and education. In my opinion, future camps for large-scale vaccination can also enlist the support of vaccinated youth.”

Some thought such a measure was easier on paper than in execution. “Vaccination of students is of the greatest importance, of course, and carrying it out on the college campuses is an option but a challenging one. The campuses have been closed for more than one-and-a-half years. They will first have to be sanitised and repairs may also need to be carried out. Maintaining physical distancing and other COVID-related protocols will also be very difficult since we have an enormous number of students. So, it is a more difficult process than it seems to be at first glance,” said Anupama Maitra, an assistant professor of English at the Gour Mohan Sachin Mandal Mahavidyalaya near Kolkata.

Students seem pleased with the idea. “We miss our canteen, the greenery of our college, the phuchka wallah outside our gate, the daily commute. We can’t wait to get back. Also, several of our classmates — almost 15 of them — could not get vaccinated due to many reasons. This step will benefit them,” said Aratrika Chaudhuri, third-year Psychology student at the Bethune College.

The drive began in West Bengal on January 16 this year and 5.2 crore people have been vaccinated till date .

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2021 10:06:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/bengal-plans-mass-vaccination-of-students-before-reopening-colleges/article36630058.ece

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