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By Carlena Knight

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Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Rhonda Sealey-Thomas has added her voice to the ongoing debate surrounding possible mandatory vaccination in the country.

Although the top medical official did not outrightly indicate whether she was for or against mandatory vaccination, she reminded residents that vaccination requirements are not a new occurrence in Antigua and Barbuda.

“Mandatory vaccines as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) is not really a legal requirement, but putting conditions on, you know, how people go to school, how they work and making it a requirement.

“Right now, in Antigua and Barbuda, in order for children to attend school they had to be vaccinated, so it’s not new,” Dr Sealey-Thomas said.

She clarified that in no way does she see consider the term ‘mandatory vaccination’ as a way to physically force people to be vaccinated.

“It’s not mandatory in the sense where you are actually going to force someone to take the vaccine. That’s my public health definition of mandatory vaccines within the context that I view it,” she added.

The issue of mandating Covid-19 vaccines has been a major topic of discussion in the last few weeks, as the government continues to lament the impact vaccine hesitancy has had on plans to inoculate 70 to 80 percent of the population to achieve herd immunity by the summer.

The sluggish response of the public has forced government officials to mull the potential of mandating the shot.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Gaston Browne warned of the possibility of implementing a mandatory vaccination programme in Antigua and Barbuda as he criticised people who were encouraging others not to get vaccinated.

He said the government has been trying to avoid introducing any mandatory requirements for vaccinations, but signalled that the administration would do so if necessary.

Already, employees within the tourism sector have been notified that severance pay could be on the cards for those whose employment is discontinued for refusing to get a jab.

Tourism officials are expecting a boost to arrival figures over the next couple of months, with widespread vaccinations across the world reigniting interest from prospective vacationers. According to reports, hotel bookings are steadily increasing, while cruise ships are preparing to dock in St John’s in a few weeks after a lengthy suspension in that sector.

As a result of these developments, business operators in the tourism and adjoining sectors have been advised to get themselves and their staff vaccinated for Covid-19, to give the incoming visitors the assurance of their safety and protection during their time on the island.

Fete promoters have also stipulated that only fully vaccinated persons would be able to gain entrance to the event.

The government also launched a $50 voucher programme in collaboration with Epicurean Fine Foods and Pharmacy and a few other businesses for people opting to take the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

These incentives have however been discouraged by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Just this week, regional pollster Peter Wickham and United Progressive Party (UPP) leader Harold Lovell, and former Chief Health Inspector Lionel Michael also voiced their disapproval.

Lovell added that such strategies are unlikely to have any significant impact and that leaders need to convince people to take the vaccine, instead of bribing them.