Browne urges Antiguans to get vaccinated
ST JOHN’S – Prime Minister Gaston Browne stopped just short of announcing that his government would be implementing a mandatory vaccination policy for Antigua & Barbuda.
But he warned that time had come to take tougher and more unpopular measures to deal with the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) that has so far killed 47 people and infected 2 047 others since March last year.
“This is a very serious issue,” he said. “I have signalled to the people of Antigua & Barbuda months ago that if we have to make vaccinations mandatory in this country, we will do it. We are not afraid to do it.
“We recognise, however, that as leaders we must be tolerant, and I am satisfied that we have exercised sufficient tolerance in this country and the time has come for us to act.”
Browne warned opposition legislators that “we cannot put our political value…or interest above that of the national interest”.
“There comes a time when we have to stand alone and make decisions in the national interest and the time has come,” he said.
Browne reminded Parliament that Cabinet had earlier this week approved of a measure that all public servants “must get vaccinated or get tested at least twice monthly” or they would not be eligible to enter the workplace.
“And if you don’t come to work, you cannot justify getting paid,” he said. “And if you don’t come to work after a period of time, you abandon your job, and you lose your employment.”
Browne said the government, as the largest employer in the country, had an obligation “to provide a safe working environment for workers”, especially the public sector.
“I hope others in the private sector would follow,” he said. “We cannot continue to play with this debilitating and deadly disease. Time has come for us to call a spade a spade and those who want to go and protest, fine, go, and protest, but respect the laws.
“The laws are very clear. No more than 10 people supposed to congregate, and if you break the laws, there are consequences. I know there will be a lot of hate speeches after this, but I will take the hatred.”
He added: “All I know is that I was elected to serve in this Honourable House, the members on this side have shown enough confidence in me to serve as prime minister, I have taken an oath in this Honourable House to lead without fear or favour.
“I have an obligation to stand in this Honourable House to tell the people of Antigua & Barbuda about the risks they are faced with if we don’t act on this now. How many more people must die? Another 100, another 200 before we act. And the irony about it, colleagues, if we don’t act, they will still blame us, so let us act, and do what we are required to do and protect the citizenry, to protect lives and livelihoods and I am saying here to my people you need to cooperate.”
The statement to Parliament from the Antigua & Barbuda prime minister comes in the wake of a report to leaders of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) that there is “ample provision” in their constitutions to support mandatory vaccination laws as the sub-region continues the battle to curb the spread of COVID-19.