A mandatory vaccination policy for healthcare workers and employees within other government sectors will be discussed at the Cabinet level this week.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne shared that information with the Observer AM radio show on Monday, just days after warning of a potential lockdown if the epidemiological situation worsens in Antigua and Barbuda.
He did not mince words, declaring, “We have been extremely tolerant; we must act now in the public’s interest.”
According to Browne, “The problem goes beyond hesitancy and public education. It’s a deliberate hold-out that can only be remedied through vaccine mandates.”
He said he has held this view for months and held back on promoting it because mandatory vaccine was an unpopular decision back then.
Over the past few weeks several individuals have signalled their support for making vaccines mandatory in order to have more people inoculated and to reach the government’s goal of herd immunity; government previously announced a target of vaccinating at least 65 percent of the population. Browne said it was the only way that the country could fully open up for business.
Ahead of the prime minister’s pronouncement, attorney Kenny Kentish supported the mandatory policy when he gave his views on the matter in a state media interview last night.
“Ultimately, when we look at the reality of the situation which we’re in, the virus is out of control, the numbers continue to rise dramatically and the number of hospitalisations continue to rise, the number of deaths continue to rise and any responsible government would have to take steps, even if they’re draconian, to arrest this dramatic rise in the numbers of infected persons and the impact it has on the government’s resources and the wider impact it has for society,” he put forward.
Senior counsel in Antigua, Anthony Astaphan, who was also a part of the programme, touted that there is no question in his mind that the government should implement mandatory vaccination.
He said it was necessary not only to protect young children but to protect the unvaccinated from themselves.
“It is absolutely clear that with the escalating figures, with the situation at the hospital, with the prime minister indicating there has to be another centre somewhere for Covid, and the number of people dying and the fact that children are being infected in a very serious way in this country, the mandate is becoming a must,” he stressed.
In addressing those who continue to promote their right to choose whether to take the Covid-19 vaccine or not, Astaphan insisted that the constitution does not guarantee absolute rights to an individual without taking into account the rights of others and the public’s interests, particularly where public health is involved.
“The freedom, or the rights and freedoms may be regulated for the purpose of ensuring that their enjoyment by an individual or freedom fighters or whoever, does not prejudice the rights and freedoms of others and the public interest,” he stated, adding that these rights and freedoms can be regulated if the government or Cabinet believes it’s reasonably necessary to protect everyone’s rights, the public interest and public health.
“This issue of a choice to take or not to take without consequences is a fiction,” he remarked.
The discussion on mandatory vaccination comes at a time when Antigua and Barbuda is struggling to reduce the number of people infected with the coronavirus.
The latest dashboard figures by the Ministry of Health released yesterday showed 131 new Covid infections and 735 active cases. Forty-two people are now hospitalised with the virus – 10 of them are said to have severe symptoms.