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Some evacuees will leave shelter if COVID vaccine is mandatory

Some evacuees will leave shelter if COVID vaccine is mandatory
Shiloh George (Picture by Katherine Renton, Searchlight)

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KINGSTOWN – If taking a Covid-19 vaccination becomes mandatory, some evacuees will not be staying at the shelters in St Vincent.

“Only problem I will have is if they (the authorities) say anything about the vaccine. I rather go back go meet Soufriere than take the vaccine. Me ain’t in this vaccine thing. The vaccine to me, it not 100 per cent. So me hear people ah die from it too, so rather me hear me dead from natural causes than me take the vaccine and me dead,” Keandra Lewis, a 26-year-old of Troumaca stated Friday morning, a few hours after explosive eruptions started at La Soufriere.

She is staying at the Layou Government School, one of the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) designated volcano emergency shelters.

The young woman travelled south to the shelter on Thursday, April 8, after the evacuation order was issued by Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, following advice from the scientists on the ground. La Soufriere had its first explosive eruption on April 9 around 8:41 a.m., and has entered an explosive phase.

The authorities have also been pushing the evacuees to get vaccinated because of the communal setting they are in, and the ongoing struggles of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.

Although Lewis does have a fear of the respiratory virus, she can’t bring herself to take the vaccination. “… I’m still not taking the vaccine. Find it hard to take the vaccine right about now.”

Speaking from the safety of the green zone, the resident explained that she made her move when she heard the rumbling and was told by the nurse at the clinic that she had been hearing it since four o’clock in the morning.

“…So I told her if it’s me, I ain’t sleeping down there,” Lewis noted.

She heard another rumble from the volcano as she made her way home. “…My suitcase was already packed. I picked it up, put on two shoe. When I coming up the road, look over Soufriere, I see a blaze like fire.” She was evacuated by bus.

At the end of the discussion she repeated, “Just hope they nah come tell all we ‘bout no vaccine.”

Principal of the school and manager of the shelter, Milton Weekes, explained that he did not think that any of the 14 people in the shelter at that point were vaccinated.

However, while the scale may have been small on the morning of April 9, following the explosive eruption that afternoon, the shelters were expecting an influx of more people from North Leeward. The Layou Government School apparently has a capacity of 65.

The management staff number eight to 10 people. Males and female evacuees will be separated, and families may stay together.

On the subject of whether the authorities have indicated that vaccination should be mandatory, Weekes replied, “No. No word from the authorities about vaccination.”

Adding, “The nurse visited this morning just to find out how things are going. She told me if I have any problems, I could just call her.”

The evacuees came in with their masks on when they entered the shelter, he also indicated.

Lewis is not the only evacuee who will absolutely not be taking the vaccine.

Shiloh George is an 18-year-old from Troumaca. He chose to head out after “Close to the night when I look at the volcano … started to see some flames and so on, and I started to see smoke very heavy, more than before, so I decided well that is it.”

He advised his family not to go to the shelters, but they will be staying with friends or family, because, he said, of the Covid-19 and the vaccination.

“Yeah, so if I had to take the vaccine I wouldn’t have left,” he indicated.

At that point he would go, “Where the wind takes me…Serious, dead serious. Somewhere. I have cousins, aunty, I will find somewhere.”

He was feeling “safe so far”, adding, “well the only concern is the vaccine…we have to take it, (if) it’s mandatory also. Basically, other than that, I’m good”.

Sivrene Williams, 58 years old of Rose Hall, was only staying at the shelter for a day.

On the matter of the vaccination, she stated, “Right now I don’t make up me mind, I can’t say yes. I can’t say no. I don’t mek up me mind as yet, but it’s something I thinking about. I’m praying to God about.”

Since these interviews, La Soufriere continues to flex her muscles, and has had multiple explosions in all, with successive pulses of ash and towering columns. (Searchlight)