By Orville Williams
The Peace, Love and Happiness (PLH) project in Barbuda has insisted that, despite criticism, its new Covid-19 vaccination policy that requires employees and contractors to be vaccinated is the best option to stave off an outbreak and avoid burdening the sister island’s already limited health services.
An announcement of the policy, which took effect last Monday, read that “in conjunction with the Health Ministry, [Chief Medical Officer] CMO and medical teams, PLH has required all staff and contractors to be vaccinated prior to entering the project. Those who elect not to do so will be placed on leave. Additionally, PLH is mandating all international visitors be vaccinated and double tested for Covid-19 prior to arriving on the project.”
The statement said further that the new policy was implemented, “considering the island’s size and capacity to manage a Covid outbreak”.
This decision makes PLH one of, if not the first, private sector entity in the twin island state to establish a vaccination requirement for employment, and it will be viewed by many as a bold step in containing the spread of the virus.
However, those who insist that Covid-19 vaccinations should not be required to secure one’s livelihood, will be disappointed with the move and the ‘domino effect’ that it could have on similar private sector operations.
One resident, commenting on the move, said it sets a “dangerous precedent”, adding that “workers even in Antigua should now be on alert, as their employers could follow suit”.
PLH’s Project President Justin Wilshaw told Observer that, along with mitigating the impact on the health system, the decision was made in the interest of the many Barbudan residents who depend on the continuity of the project for a stable income.
“It comes down to what is the capacity of Barbuda to medically treat unvaccinated people, and as a company, obviously we have a responsibility to the welfare and health of our entire staff.
“So, while I appreciate and respect individuals’ decisions, at the moment – with recorded cases in Barbuda – I have to take a position to ensure that the welfare and the income of the families involved in what we’re doing is being protected.
“We have had other projects in the Caribbean that have had to shut because of Covid outbreaks [and] I don’t want this project to shut, so this is the stance that we have to take.”
Wilshaw explained that the new policy will remain in effect for the foreseeable future and noted that prior to the change, 80 percent of the staff and contractors were already vaccinated.
He said the project has been taking the initiative to acquire vaccines and medical personnel from the mainland to administer them, to make it easier for the staff who wished to get inoculated.
That initiative continues even today and he added that a large percentage of the staff is on board with the ultimate objective.
Wilshaw also responded to a declaration from the Barbuda Council on the PLH policy change, in response to a third-party suggestion that the council was in agreement.
In a statement, the council said that “at no time has PLH or any other entity or representative of PLH had any discussions with council regarding Covid on Barbuda”.
It’s important to note that the Barbuda Council did not actually criticise the PLH’s decision in its statement, and Wilshaw insisted that the Barbuda Council Secretary was contacted multiple times and the Council was briefed on their position.
The project president also said assurances were given to the Barbuda Council that PLH would only accept fully vaccinated employees into the island, as a means of protecting the local population.
Efforts were made to contact the Barbuda Council for further comment, but those efforts were unsuccessful up to press time.
Meanwhile, Wilshaw confirmed that the unvaccinated employees would be afforded paid leave for this week and that position would be reconsidered after the vaccination drives this week.