By Orville Williams
More members of the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda (RPFAB) are getting vaccinated ahead of the government’s October 1 deadline, when salaries will begin to be withheld from public sector workers who remain unvaccinated and without an authorised exemption.
The government announced that new policy two weeks ago and members of the force – who are subject to it – were reminded last week that it will be strictly enforced.
In a missive dated last Thursday, Commissioner of Police Atlee Rodney advised that effective October 1, “all police officers who have not provided proof that they have been vaccinated for Covid-19 or an exemption from vaccination in accordance with the [Public Health Act] regulations shall be considered to be on leave without pay”.
The government was quoted the week prior saying the absence of “nearly 25 percent” of the police force – afflicted with Covid-19 – in a neighbouring country had apparently resulted in increased criminal activity.
Though that pointed to some concern for the RPFAB, which is already facing staffing issues, it did not appear that a great number of police officers were at risk of being affected by the mandate.
The government also said then, that according to the police, the force is moving towards achieving 100 percent compliance which [could] be achieved by October 1.
Police spokesman, Acting Assistant Superintendent, Frankie Thomas, told Observer that while the statistics could not be immediately provided, more officers have definitely gotten vaccinated since the pronouncements.
“What has been happening is a number of the officers would have availed themselves [of the Covid-19 vaccine] through the various vaccination sites across the island, especially at [the American University of Antigua] AUA.
“I can’t give the exact figures, but I know a number of officers would have gone and gotten vaccinated since that announcement was made and since AUA would have made provisions for the general public to [visit] their location to be vaccinated.
“We would have made provisions for our officers to go and do the same and a number of them would have showed up and done just that,” Thomas added.
With the spread of the virus continuing to threaten the health system and the much-anticipated economic resurgence, the government maintains that it will be strict in enforcing the new vaccine mandate.
It has already declared that it will employ temporary workers to fill any gaps that affect the wider public and gone back-and-forth with the unions that are either contesting or preparing to contest the mandatory vaccination policy in court.
Where the police force is concerned, Thomas noted that officers are ‘not above the law’ and will be similarly subject to the new rules, with the same level of scrutiny.
“I think the policy that the government has [implemented] is across the board, it applies to the police as it applies to any other person. So, I think at the end of the day, those police officers who would have found themselves outside that policy [would] just have to face the consequences,” he said.
The government also previously disclosed that the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force reported that 100 percent compliance with the mandatory vaccination policy has been achieved, with the exception of medical exemptions.