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St Vincent to make COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for frontline workers


St Vincent to make COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for frontline workers
Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves. (GP)

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Kingstown – The St Vincent and the Grenadines government will on Thursday pilot legislation amending the Public Health (Amendment) Bill 2021 that it says will allow for certain categories of public sector employees to be vaccinated in order to work in “frontline” jobs.

“Given the extent of the misrepresentations, and misinformation by some persons about this Bill, it is necessary and desirable to put the record straight,” Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said.

He added that the legislation “does not involve any legal penalty or punishment on anyone who fails and/or refuses to take the vaccine or test for COVID-19”.

Gonsalves said that it is the intention of the government, however, to make rules under the Public Health Act to require certain categories of employees in the public sector, including those in central government and state enterprises to take the vaccine in order to work in certain specified “frontline” jobs.

“The choice of working or not working in a particular job which requires vaccination in the interest of public health will be that of the employee. Individual rights are always required in the appropriate circumstances to be balanced by public interest considerations, in this case the requisites of public health.  The relevant rules under the Public Health Act will be made and published in due course in the Official Gazette,” he said.

Last Thursday, the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) staged a street protest against the government’s proposed mandatory vaccination law got much attention.

“We are protesting because the government does not offer any hope out of this pandemic,” Opposition Leader Dr. Godwin Friday said. He said that the protest was also against a number of issues, including jobs and alleged missing state funds.

“We are protesting because the government has legislation on the books with the intention of mandating vaccination,” he said, adding “as you know, the position in my party is that we are in favour of vaccination, but this is something people must do their own research and come to their own conclusion as to what is good and right after they have done their research.”

“This is not something that can be mandated and forced upon people. Nowhere in the world they are doing that,” Friday told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).

However, Gonsalves, in his statement, said that for public servants, the usual and relevant Public Service Regulations will be applicable in all material circumstances.

The government has said that the rationale for amending the Public Health (Amendment) Bill 2021 is to allow for “where a public health emergency is declared, the minster can, on the advice of the chief medical officer, implement special measures to mitigate or remedy the emergency.

“One of those measures include establishing a voluntary immunization programme for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines or any part of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines”.

Gonsalves said that the Public Health Act, which was enacted on April 22, 1977, already contemplates that the Minister can impose mandatory vaccination in the country “to prevent, control or suppress a communicable disease.

St Vincent and the Grenadines has recorded 2 291 cases and 12 deaths from the virus since the first case was detected in March last year.

The island has so far vaccinated 25 635 people or 11.6 per cent of its population. (CMC)