F2F college classes get full DoH backing

The Department of Health (DoH) on Tuesday expressed its full support for the resumption of face-to-face classes in higher education institutions regardless of the vaccination status of students and school personnel.

“Our Covid-19 response is dynamic, and always follows the latest scientific recommendations available. The benefits of in-person and face-to-face schooling now outweigh the risk of Covid-19 infections,” Health officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said.

“Face-to-face classes boost academic performance, improve on mental health and well-being, and help develop social engagement skills. Furthermore, many of our bright yet disadvantaged students find it difficult to spend on devices and internet access,” Vergeire added.

Despite that proof of vaccination is no longer needed, she said that vaccination and boosters for all eligible individuals are still strongly recommended.

The statement came after the Commission on Higher Education announced that it will scrap the vaccination requirements for students and teachers joining the implementation of face-to-face classes.

Earlier, the health department, CHEd, and health experts convened to discuss the scientific bases for this update in the policy.

“Policymakers noted the high Covid-19 vaccination coverage in Philippine higher education, with 77 percent of students and 90 percent of HEI personnel already fully vaccinated against the virus,” the DoH said.

“The DoH and health experts also presented Philippine data showing less infections in the 18-25 age group compared to other age groups, further to international data showing that Omicron and its sub-variants thus far have lower fatality or severity of disease,” it added.

The department said that country joins at least five other countries in giving more weight to the value of in-person and face-to-face higher education, given the scientific bases above.

The following countries have already removed the requirement for HEI students and personnel to show proof of vaccination: Australia, the United Kingdom (but strongly encouraged), Canada (strongly recommended for congregate student-living settings), New Zealand, and Singapore (but unvaccinated students require biweekly testing for indoor dining).

It also noted that the move is supported by the global community, including the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

“Our PinasLakas campaign for vaccination and boosters, plus continued adherence to the minimum public health standards make this return to university and college life on campus possible,” Vergeire said.

“Students and personnel should always be BIDA: wear the Best fitting mask, Isolate when sick, Double up protection with vaccination and boosters, and ensure good Airflow. The DOH will keep working with CHED and our colleges and universities to ensure safe higher education,” she added.

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