By Carlena Knight
Education Minister Daryll Matthew has publicly apologised for recent comments he made in Parliament regarding vaccination of teachers at a local private school.
During Thursday’s sitting of the Lower House, Matthew said the Baptist Academy of Antigua was the only educational institution in the country to resume face-to-face learning after all staff got the jab.
But it was his details of precisely how they had received it that caused controversy, when he claimed that the school’s principal had put his staff on a bus to a vaccine centre, implying they’d been taken there without express consent.
Matthew’s comments were quickly rebuffed by Principal, Dr Hensworth Jonas, who in a press release referred to the Education Minister’s presentation as “flawed” and “inaccurate”.
“No staff member was transported by the school to any of the vaccination sites and no one was forced or threatened about any consequences if they opted to remain unvaccinated,” Jonas said.
“The staff was simply persuaded that full vaccination was in their best interest and they followed the example of the administration.”
He also accused the minister of dropping the ball and using a celebratory occasion to exercise control over citizens through coercion.
“The honourable minister took what was a simple catch in the slips and dropped the ball. What should have been a celebration of compliance with public policy was turned into a false narrative of draconian totalitarianism.
“The minister is well advised to use parliamentary immunity to establish a record of truth. As founder and principal of Baptist Academy of Antigua, and as the Presiding Elder of the ECBM Circuit of Baptist Churches, I want to make it abundantly clear that I support full vaccination of our population to fight this plague, but I do not support the forced vaccination of anyone,” Jonas stated.
Matthew told Observer that his comments had been taken out of context but noted that he may have been misinformed about some of the details about the process.
“It has been brought to my attention that the comments I made in Parliament about the Baptist Academy were taken a little out of context and I think, perhaps, the information I received was incorrect because you would recognise I started by saying ‘I am advised, I am told that this was the case’,” he said.
“It has subsequently been brought to my attention, in fact, I had a conversation with Dr Jonas who indicated that he actually did not take his staff to be vaccinated by bus; it was done on their own accord.
“If there was any damage that was caused to Dr Jonas or the Baptist Academy, it really was not intentional.
“In fact, my intention was to highlight that strong leadership really does pay dividends and can be seen here in Antigua and Barbuda with the Baptist Academy as it remains the only school that is open for face-to-face learning,” Matthew said.
“And so, to Dr Jonas, like I said, if any damage was done, I will offer an apology; perhaps I was misadvised.”