VACCINE MANDATE BATTLE

Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Mottley.
Photo by George Alleyne

Police were called to Guyana’s education ministry’s head office on Tuesday to evict staff members who had entered the building without proof of vaccination as a growing number of state agencies are now moving to shut out the unvaccinated staff and visitors as tensions rise in the region over efforts by authorities to hike the number of people taking COVID-19 jabs.

Tuesday’s incident was the most serious in the south Caribbean so far, coming weeks after mass protests in the eastern part of the 15-nation bloc-in St. Vincent and neighboring Barbados, largely. Resistance to efforts by governments to force vaccine mandates on citizens boiled over in July when Vincentian Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves was hit in the head and injured by a stone thrown by an angry protestor as he was on his way to parliament to amend legislation to require vaccine mandates. He was flown to Barbados for emergency treatment, has recovered and is back at his desk. His female attacker has been charged and is before the courts.

In Barbados as well, Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s cabinet this week backed away from plans to introduce vaccine mandates, saying after examining a legal opinion on the issues that “we are philosophically opposed to the mandate of vaccine. That is not who we are as a people. Philosophically, I personally and most of my cabinet have agreed that we should not mandate vaccines. For those of you who are ambivalent I ‘gine (going to be) be straight. I coming to help persuade you because I believe vaccines will save your lives,” Mottley said in a national address.

The cabinet’s new position has come in the wake of the overnight formation of a number of civic organizations opposed to mandates including one representing nurses and other frontline workers in Barbados and St. Vincent who were being lined up to accept the mandate.

In the Guyana Ministry of Education’s fiasco this week, authorities acknowledged that police were called in to escort away those who had turned up without their vaccination cards or without their weekly PCR tests results. The ministry said it was also ordering supervisors to keep tabs on staff to ensure they comply with the latest regulations.

The latest developments come as schools are set to reopen in several countries, including Guyana and Trinidad in the next two weeks. With large amounts of doses of the Pfizer vaccine arriving in CARICOM in recent days, authorities are scrambling to encourage parents of children over age 12 to be vaccinated but officials said those who are not would not be barred from attending.
“While vaccination of children will not be mandatory, we are urging parents to consider the benefits that this vaccine will provide to their children and consent to the vaccine being administered to their children,” Guyana’s ministry stated.

In Trinidad, Both Prime Minister Keith Rowley and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar this week made public appeals for children to be vaccinated saying it is the right thing to do and the best practice to stop the spread of the virus. “Please do take them. The FDA has now pronounced the Pfizer not as an emergency vaccine but has given full approval,” she said as authorities reported that 15,500 students had already taken shots by mid week.

But Rowley made it clear his government will have to act if less than 70 percent of the 91,000 students in the 12-17 category are not vaccinated.

“If at the end of the period that we set, which is mid September, we look back and see a population of vaccinated students, which is really below herd immunity levels of 60 or 70 per cent, the government will have to act. So far, we have left it up to the responsibility of parents to be reasonable, to be understanding, to be caring, and to be responsible. And if it gets to that, the government will have no difficulty intervening on the children’s behalf, as we have done with measles. We will not do this lightly. If it has to be done, we will do it,” he said.

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