Brussels schools 'informally ask' about vaccination among pupils

Brussels schools 'informally ask' about vaccination among pupils
Credit: Belga

Despite teachers not being allowed to ask their pupils whether or not they have been vaccinated, reports of some "informal" questions are coming from several schools in the Brussels-Capital Region.

Only a quarter of all Brussels' secondary school pupils have received a first vaccine dose, but medical confidentiality forbids schools from questioning pupils on the matter, meaning they can only rely on the Centres for Pupil Guidance for a rough idea of the vaccination rate in a specific school or class.

But that has not stopped the topic from coming up.

"Some students were asked whether they had been vaccinated or not," Karin Struys, spokesperson for the GO! School group in Brussels, told Bruzz.

"That was done informally or during a class discussion, always verbally. We absolutely cannot oblige the pupils to answer," she said. "It is up to them to decide what they share."

In several schools, the pupils themselves were the ones who broached the subject, according to Struys. "Some of them spontaneously say that they have already been vaccinated, because they are tired of having to wear a mask."

Additionally, some parents have called the schools to say that their child had been vaccinated, but that is not enough to make a full assessment of vaccination coverage.

"There are always going to be children who do not want to say," said Struys.

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Dutch-speaking schools in Brussels are still enforcing the stricter rules that were in place before the summer holidays, meaning that staff and pupils in the fifth and sixth years in primary school (pupils aged 10-12) must still wear a mask indoors.

"There is not a lot of concern, because the same measures from the end of last school year are still in place. The schools are following these closely. That also gives protection," said Struys.

However, in the region's Francophone schools, those stricter rules no longer apply. This means that primary school pupils no longer have to wear masks, and children in secondary schools can take them off once they are seated.

Vaccination plans

The Brussels health authorities are launching actions to vaccinate children in secondary schools now that the new school year has started.

Pupils aged over 12 at Brussels’ Dutch-speaking secondary schools, as well as their parents, are able to receive their coronavirus vaccines through the school. 

During the first weeks, the schools will focus on informing people and convincing them with practical arguments. Then, depending on the location of the school, staff will accompany pupils and parents to a vaccination centre, or a vaccination team will be deployed on-site.

There are around 15,330 pupils in the 40 Dutch-speaking secondary schools in the capital, according to Brussels’ minister for Dutch-speaking education Sven Gatz, who launched the initiative alongside the Flemish Community Commission (VGC) and Cocom.

A similar initiative will soon also be rolled out in French-speaking schools in the region.

"All our schools endorse the vaccination campaign, but quite a few principals want to combine it with a cautious, informal approach," said Struys. "They want to put a strong emphasis on personal talks with the students and their parents, to discuss their doubts and questions."

If everything goes to plan, the first school vaccinations should start in the week of 13 September.

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