DUBAI // Schools were told yesterday to meet their obligation to vaccinate children or risk having their on-site clinics shut down.
Private schools in Dubai received circulars from the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) warning them against ignoring new guidelines that make them responsible for inoculations.
DHA nurses and doctors used to visit schools to conduct vaccinations, but now the school clinics will be expected to collect the vaccines from the authority, store and administer them. The regulations are part of the authority's childhood immunisation policy, which mandates that the clinics be registered as Vaccine-Qualified Clinics and follow the inoculation schedule outlined by the Ministry of Health. Parents have the right to refuse vaccinations for their children - and many do.
"The circular has been issued to inform schools not to close down their vaccination programme because they feel a minority of pupils utilise this service," a spokesman for the DHA said.
Schools will also be expected to invest in medical equipment and storage facilities to be licensed by the DHA. Those with more than 1,000 pupils should have two full-time nurses and a full-time doctor. If pupil numbers exceed 2,000, there must be a nurse assigned for every 1,000 children and two full-time doctors. Schools with fewer than a 1,000 children should have a nurse and they must appoint a part-time doctor. All personnel must be licensed by DHA.
Many schools have raised issues about the costs and a shortage of qualified medical staff.
"Not all parents opt to get their children vaccinated and that just makes it difficult to invest so much," said one principal.
Teresa Valdez, a nurse at the United International Private School in Dubai, said her school had only recently been informed about the system, which must be implemented by November, and they were still looking for a full-time doctor.
Dr Maneesha Phadke, a general practitioner at Belhoul Speciality Hospital and a visiting doctor at several schools in Dubai, said talks with the authority about the policy were continuing. "Not all schools have the required medical staff to handle the entire procedure themselves, which is why there is still a debate on the matter," she said.
Syed Rasul Syed Mirza Galib, the principal of The Central School, said it was ready to adopt the system and added most parents opted to get their children vaccinated at the school. "It's free and safe, so they prefer it to be done here."
The National Inoculation Programme was initiated in 1980 to eradicate six childhood diseases: polio, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, measles and tuberculosis.
Since then, three more vaccinations have been added to the schedule to inoculate against measles, mumps and rubella. MMR was introduced in 1985. A hepatitis B vaccine was introduced in 1990 and the PRP vaccine for influenza was added in 1999.
As the number of separate vaccines increased, combination vaccines were introduced, such as the pentavalent vaccine (five vaccines in one injection) in 2005 and the new hexavalent vaccine (six vaccines in one injection), which was introduced this year. Future plans include introducing vaccines recommended by the World Health Organization, such as the rotavirus vaccine to protect children from diarrhoea-causing viruses, a cervical cancer vaccine and the chickenpox vaccine.
* With additional reporting by Zaineb Al Hassani