Prime Minister Gaston Browne is the subject of strong criticism, following a disclosure last week that he had been vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus weeks prior, even as health officials awaited the shipment of shots through the COVAX facility.
Browne had been chided by many, including the Antigua and Barbuda Nurses Association for not taking the vaccine publicly as had many other leaders, as well as opting to take the Moderna vaccine which is said to be about 92 percent efficacious against the Covid-19 virus compared to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine which will be distributed to the general population with an efficacy of about 63 percent.
While he had declined giving further details on circumstances surrounding his actions initially, Browne said Friday that the vaccine was gifted to him and that he had “no legal or moral obligation” to volunteer information that he had been vaccinated.
However, Ambassador-at-Large for the Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption – Akaash Maharaj said the key mistake that the prime minister made, irrespective of his justification, is that as a public figure and leader of the government, he should have acted with transparency.
“The fact that he did not explain what he planned to do and submit it to public scrutiny when he did it, suggests that his actions were as the Nurses Association described it, ‘clandestine’,” he said. “If there is nothing wrong with the steps that he had planned to take, he should have been forthcoming to the public.”
Maharaj said the PM has effectively taken advantage of a medical treatment that is not available to the public in a country that upholds equal access to health care to all citizens as an imperative.
He added that by using a vaccine option that is not being presented to the wider population, it may be perceived that he is offering an option to residents that “isn’t good enough for him.”
In the meantime, a former minister of health in St Lucia – Alvina Reynolds called the situation “unfortunate.”
She said that with all of the scepticism surrounding Covid-19 vaccines, the prime minister taking the vaccine could have been used as a public health education strategy that would have encouraged people to take the shot as well.
“I think he has missed a golden opportunity to promote the vaccine in Antigua and Barbuda,” she added.
Reynolds said the public “back and forth” between the Prime Minister and the Nurses Association is also counter-productive since the health care workers will be expected to play a role in the vaccine education campaign.
The Nurses Association had said the prime minister’s action had eroded public confidence and increased mistrust in vaccinations, and they’d stated further that the association is demanding that the highest efficacy vaccines be made available for nurses.
Browne later called the letter “irresponsible” and “unacceptable.”
Reynolds is calling on Minister of Health Sir Molwyn Joseph to intervene and resolve the matter.
Meanwhile, the former prime minister of St Kitts and Nevis, Dr Denzil Douglas, said that it is unfortunate that the matter has become so controversial and he believes that the nation’s leader was acting in “good faith.”.
“It would be very good for the prime minister to explain why he took the action that he took,” he added.
He too agrees that “the controversy could be nullified to some extent” if the minister of health intervenes and “moves the conversation forward.”