By Carlena Knight
Despite a public appeal from Prime Minister Gaston Browne for members of the Rastafarian community to be inoculated against Covid-19, members of the Nyabinghi tribe are adamant that they will not be taking the “white man’s vaccine”.
Speaking exclusively with Observer media yesterday, one of the elders of the tribe, Ras Osagyefo, was resolute in his stance that they will not be taking any vaccine.
While speaking during the handing over ceremony for Booby Alley homes on Monday, Browne appealed to Rastafarians to take the vaccine, adding that he had previous discussions with Osagyefo about the possibility of taking it.
But the elder stands firm in the position that they will be rejecting that appeal and ‘will not be taking any vaccine’.
“It’s not right in the name of God. There are so many different vaccines out there from so many different companies and they want to just shove it down our throats like if we don’t have no say about our own lives; they making decisions for us. We are saying it is not right … we are in disagreement with the whole principle of the vaccine situation. Tell the World Health Organization me say we not taking none. I am against it. We are not for it and not for them trying to force us to do things,” Osagyefo said.
Browne echoed comments by noted pathologist, Dr Lester Simon who, earlier this week, publicly declared that no one should be exempted from taking the vaccine, despite their religious beliefs.
Dr Simon noted that individuals who are arguing that they will not be taking the Covid jab for religious or other reasons should not go unvaccinated because such individuals “can spread the virus like anyone else”.
He spoke specifically to Rastafarians because of recent discussions surrounding the possible exemption of the religious group and compared the choice to take a vaccine to that of smoking marijuana, but despite this stance, Dr Simon believes that people should not be forced to get vaccinated, and that there should be a greater emphasis on educating people on the importance of being vaccinated.
Traditionally, religious groups like the Rastafarian community would be exempt from taking any vaccine. Across the region also, this matter has seen much debate from both sides. In Barbados, in particular, popular political analyst Peter Wickham has blasted the Rastafarian community for their stance.
Wickham acknowledged that it was their constitutional right not to take the jab, but went on to suggest that a stance could also be taken that people who did not take the Covid-19 vaccine should not be allowed to occupy the same space as those who did.
The Rastafari Progressive Movement (RPM) likened Wickham’s comments to the racially-laced rant recently captured on video and circulated on social media. They said that Wickham’s statement was made out of ignorance and was an “attack” on every Barbadian who chose not to be inoculated against the COVID-19 virus.
The RPM’s comments were echoed by Elder Osagyefo himself who said that is a “bribery” for PM Browne and others to mention about mandatory vaccinations and other measures to force persons to get vaccinated.
“We are concerned about all these things. We are looking into all these things. They fighting us to take vaccine and saying you are not going to get this, you are not going to get no Carnival, you not going to get pay; that’s bribery. You are bribing me to take what I don’t want. If you na tek this vaccine ya you are not going to be able to do this, you nar go get nutting. Are you limiting my life? Are you telling me that I must subject to all of your principles when you have not proven to us what is this Covid?” Osagyefo asked.
PM Browne on Monday had stated that a time may come where restrictions will have to be implemented if persons continue to not come forward in order to achieve herd immunity.
He added that this dilemma is not only a personal responsibility but a collective one, as one person’s decision to not get vaccinated affects the entire society in various facets.
According to Browne, this stance will trickle down into the economy as some tourists may say they are not venturing to countries who have not achieved herd immunity, a situation that will leave a significant number of persons out of work for an even longer period of time.
He added that this stance could also impact the process of acquiring additional vaccines from international bodies as ‘funds are so scare’ already.
But Elder Osagyefo said they are quite concerned about the pressure they are receiving to take these vaccines ‘which were manufactured in just six months, as he referred to the entire dilemma as “medicinal genocide”.
Although the Rastafarian Elder expressed his disappointment in PM Browne over this stance, he added that while he does not blame him, he understands the position that he is in.
Osagyefo said that he intends to seek an audience with the Prime Minister to discuss the matter in greater detail.
The issue of mandating Covid-19 vaccines has been a major topic of discussion during the last week, as the government continues to lament the impact vaccine hesitancy has had on plans to inoculate 70 to 80 percent of the population so that herd immunity could be achieved by summer.
The sluggish response of the public has forced government officials to mull the potential of mandating the shot.
Since then, the government has launched a $50 voucher programme in collaboration with Epicurean Fine Foods and Pharmacy for people opting to take the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine despite opposition from PAHO over using incentives and mandatory practices to achieve herd immunity.