Main opposition party maintains stance against mandatory vaccination

UPP Leader, Harold Lovell (file photo)
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By Carlena Knight

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The Leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP) has spoken out against the recent attempts by the government to “bribe” residents to get vaccinated, and has called them ineffective.

Harold Lovell addressed the matter at the UPP’s Virtual Meeting on Thursday and echoed similar comments hours later on Observer radio.

He said that bribing persons who are already quite skeptical about getting the jab does not make sense and has suggested intensive educational campaigns as the way forward in order to mitigate the dilemma.

Lovell said people need to be armed with as much information as possible to be able to make informed choices.

“The strategy of attempting to bribe persons with KFC or whatever it is, I don’t think that it’s going to work. There should be an intensive educational campaign bringing all the stakeholders to the table and that’s how you have to do it, you have to persuade them and convince them,” Lovell said.

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 in order to achieve herd immunity by 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 take the vaccine.

As a result of these developments, business operators in the tourism-related 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 their events.

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

But Lovell stated that making certain restrictions may do more harm than good as there is a considerable number of persons who have yet to be vaccinated.

“Suppose you say if you don’t take the vaccine then you can’t go into the Treasury? So when half the people can’t go into the Treasury, what’s going to happen to the business that can’t be transacted?’ he asked.

“If you say, if you don’t take the vaccine, there’s certainly places other than the Treasury that you cannot go, then those businesses may end up suffering because of the amount of people. You see, if it was just a marginal amount of people, you might say ‘okay, fine’, but the numbers should suggest that there’s a considerable body who still want to be informed, who still want to be properly satisfied and that is where we should put the most effort,” he added.

Lovell said the forceful behaviour undertaken by the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party-led government will not work, and is failing the public vaccination programme.

He added that the fact that the Prime Minister would have taken another type of vaccine, unbeknownst to the public, also adds to why persons are so hesitant.

Despite their objection to mandatory vaccine policies and incentives, the UPP has clarified that it is still onboard with encouraging people to get vaccinated.

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