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Union in St Vincent pushes back over COVID vaccine


Union in St Vincent pushes back over COVID vaccine

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Kingstown – The Public Service Union (PSU) is accusing the St Vincent and the Grenadines government of seeking to force public servants to be vaccinated as part of its policy on testing for the coronavirus (COVID-19).

In a memorandum last Friday, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Cuthbert Knights said Cabinet has directed that as of Monday, all unvaccinated state employees are required to be tested regularly, up to once every two weeks, based on risk levels as determined by health authorities.

“Kindly advise staff under your control to contact their nearest health facility to be tested accordingly, and submit the record to the permanent secretary upon receipt” Knights wrote in the memo to heads of programmes and unions.

But PSU President, Elroy Boucher, said that the memo is not in keeping with science and comes even as the union is awaiting information on the said policy, which the government promised to supply since April.

“We know today that vaccinated persons can contract the virus and also spread it. So, to specify that vaccinated persons would not be tested, it seems that they are really targeting persons who are unvaccinated to push them toward taking the vaccine,” Boucher told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), adding that not everyone is comfortable with “the invasive procedure of the antigen test.

He said that there are no reports of outbreaks of COVID-19 in the government departments, and strict measures have been put in place for workers and the public, including mandatory wearing of face masks, hand sanitisation, and physical distancing.

“So the likelihood of a transmission, even from say the public going to pay their (vehicle or driver’s) licence, or to interface with the Public Service, is a low risk,” he said, noting that some offices have a glass screen protecting the employee from the members of the public.

He said that the government is yet to provide information on random sampling that it had spoken about in April.

Boucher noted that the PSU, the Teachers’ Union, as well as the Police Welfare Association have long said that until they can see how the policy is fleshed out, members should not comply.

“Our position remains the same. We have provided a legal document for those persons who otherwise might want something legal in their hand.

“A person may not want to be tested for medical reasons or any other reason. That could be placed on the form, they take that form to the Registry, have it notarised and they give it to their supervisors.”

The union president said that apart from the use of this form, the union is also indicating that until it gets the policy details that Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves promised in April, its members should not comply with the policy.

Boucher said that at the April meeting, the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Simone Keizer-Beache had said because of the nature of their work, some public sector workers are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, while the risk to others is minimal.

“As a union, we are not opposed to being vaccinated. In fact, we support and encourage persons to be vaccinated . . . .”

The union president said that it is the individual choice of each public servant, noting that the union is as strong as its members.

On June 1, Minister of Health Minister, St Clair “Jimmy” Prince said that 20 324 vaccines had been administered here with 13 902 being given first doses, and 6 432 second doses.

An estimated 16 167 people here have been fully vaccinated, the minister told reporters adding that the ministry’s surveillance team was working on providing the disaggregated data.

The ministry had hoped to have administered 50 000 vaccines by this time.