CHED pushes for 'clustered' COVID-19 vaccination in colleges, universities

Jaehwa Bernardo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 01 2021 05:07 PM

College students of the Our Lady of Fatima University Pampanga are inoculated against COVID-19 at the campus on October 13, 2021. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
College students of the Our Lady of Fatima University Pampanga are inoculated against COVID-19 at the campus on October 13, 2021. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) said Wednesday it was pushing for a "clustering" of COVID-19 vaccinations in colleges and universities as it noted challenges in inoculating students and school personnel.

Under the setup, a higher education institution (HEI) serving as a COVID-19 vaccination center will accept and vaccinate students from nearby schools, CHED Chairman Prospero de Vera said.

"Not all the universities have the facilities to become a vaccination center. So what we are working with our regional offices is for the universities to work around in a cluster," he said in an online press conference.

Currently, 166 HEIs are serving as COVID-19 vaccination centers. Colleges and universities also began school-based vaccination of their students and personnel in mid-October.

De Vera, who has been visiting HEIs around the country to check their vaccination programs, said some schools are already vaccinating students from nearby institutions, citing Tarlac State University and the Mabalacat City College in Pampanga.

"In other regions, we observed that the schools have not talked to each other as often as they need to be, kaya nga iyong proposal na i-cluster ang schools," he said.

(That's why we proposed to cluster the schools.)

Students from HEIs without school-based vaccination tend to rely on the vaccination centers of their local government unit (LGUs), De Vera said. 

The setup often leads to problems in "monitoring and tracking" of vaccinated students, unlike in school-based vaccination where HEIs already have a masterlist, he said.

Only fully vaccinated students and personnel can join limited in-person classes, which De Vera described as an "incentive" for those who get the jab.

As of Nov. 25, 1.8 million tertiary students have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or 45.91 percent of the total 4 million, according to CHED data.

Data also showed that 239,431 higher education personnel have received jabs, equivalent to 82.45 percent of the total 290,380.

'Problematic areas'

De Vera could not say when the higher education sector would achieve a 100-percent vaccination rate, noting challenges such as remoteness of campuses, and lack of vaccinators and equipment.

He cited "problematic areas" such as the Palawan State University, which has more than 10 campuses, some of which are on islands and thus cannot be converted into vaccination centers.

"We cannot mobilize all the possible sites because of geographic characteristics, problems of vaccinators," he said.

Vaccine hesitancy is also high in some rural areas, De Vera said.

CHED Executive Director Cinderella Benitez-Jaro, meanwhile, said unvaccinated students would continue to learn through remote learning.

Benitez-Jaro said HEIs planning to hold limited in-person classes must have a verification system that would check on the vaccination status of students and personnel.

The government recently approved the phased resumption of in-person classes for all college programs in areas under Alert Level 3 and below.

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