Thousands of 12-15-year-olds in Dubai receive Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in first week

Gems Education alone expects 10,000 of its pupils will have had their first shot by next week

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Private schools in the UAE have immunised thousands of pupils against Covid-19 in the week since authorities approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged 12 to 15.

Principals believe the move will reassure parents about sending their children back to school and help them resume in-person extracurricular activities.

Delhi Private School Dubai booked slots for more than 2,000 pupils to be vaccinated this week, of whom 800 received their first dose last weekend. About 4,000 pupils attend the school.

Gems Education, the country’s largest school developer, has ensured more than 1,800 pupils received the first jab.

More than 42,000 Gems students are eligible and 8,000 will be having this done this week - and 1,800 have already received the vaccine

“This is an important step to make our school campus safer,” said Rashmi Nandkeolyar, principal of Delhi Private School Dubai.

“When we came to know vaccinations were allowed for children, we swung into action within a day,” she said.

“We feel that the vaccinations will extend the safety not just to the school but to the wider community.

“We wanted to do it as fast as possible as this is for the greater good of everybody.”

The school has collaborated with the UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention to organise vaccinations at Grand Hyatt Dubai.

Every day between May 21 and 27, hundreds of pupils from the school queue to be inoculated.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - February 14, 2019: Rashmi Nandkeolyar, principal at Delhi Private School. Rahhal programme is in its second phase and heads of schools are discussing the challenges it faces. Thursday the 14th of February 2019 at The Gardens, Jebel Ali, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Rashmi Nandkeolyar, principal of Delhi Private School Dubai, said vaccinations would make schools safer. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Parents accompany children for shots and school officials are around to help at the site.

The school’s effort is aimed at inoculating the majority of pupils who are eligible for the vaccine, to hasten a complete return of pupils to campus.

“Distance learning is efficient but it can’t replace the kind of energy and collaboration that takes place in a classroom,” Ms Nandkeolyar said.

“Once the majority of children are vaccinated, more children can come on campus and we can resume our holistic programme of activities.”

Gems Education started its vaccination drive with Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine for pupils aged 12 and over.

“More than 42,000 Gems students are eligible to be vaccinated and 8,000 will be having this done this week – 1,800 have already received the vaccine,” said Elmarie Venter, chief operations and marketing officer at Gems Education.

“Gems will continue its work throughout the summer to ensure all our schools remain as safe as possible for our communities, and we are delighted to welcome 1,600 new teachers in August.”

The new teachers will also be immunised.

“We believe that with this campaign of vaccinations for all pupils aged 12 and over, we can take a big step towards all our pupils safely returning to the classroom,” Ms Venter said.

Pupils across the UAE were excited and a little nervous while receiving their first shots.

Riva Tulpule, a 15-year-old at Gems Modern Academy received her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week. Courtesy: Riva Tulpule
Riva Tulpule, 15, a pupil at Gems Modern Academy, has received her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Riva Tulpule

For children, the vaccines mean greater freedom and more protection while playing with friends.

Riva Tulpule, a 15-year-old pupil at Gems Modern Academy, was so keen to be immunised that she travelled to Ajman with her family for her first dose on Wednesday.

“When they opened up vaccines I was excited to take it,” Riva said. “The vaccine makes me feel very protected.”

Her parents have already been inoculated. “I definitely feel more secure and comfortable now,” she said.

Riva said the only side effect she felt was slight pain in her arm.

“These are tough times. I urge everyone to take the vaccine because this is the first stage of protecting yourself.”

Venkat Talluri, 12, who attends Delhi Private School Dubai, received his first dose on Friday through the school.

“It hurt a little initially but I wanted to take the vaccine,” said Venkat. “People don’t need to be scared.”

He said he was looking forward to playing sports such as football and tennis.

Talluri Madhavi, Venkat’s mother, said having her child vaccinated would make her feel more secure.

Ms Madhavi said that if children are vaccinated, they could help keep others safe.

Aryan Pardasani, 13, an Indian pupil at DPS Dubai, said he believed everyone should be immunised.

“It stings a little but it’s worth it,” he said.

Aryan said being immunised would help him me feel better while going out to play with friends.

“It makes me feel confident that the virus will not touch me,” he said.

“I wanted to play a lot of sports and this has given me more freedom.”