By Orville Williams
Leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Harold Lovell, has dismissed suggestions that his party has been complicit in the ‘anti-vax’ movement in Antigua and Barbuda, calling those suggestions “utter nonsense”.
Due to the competitive nature of the UPP’s relationship with the ruling Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP), some critics believe the opposition party seeks too often to undermine the administration’s efforts, with that attitude negatively affecting the buy-in from sections of the public toward the Covid-19 vaccination programme.
Lovell responded to those claims during a discussion on Twitter’s Spaces platform Monday, pointing out the work his party has been doing, including collaborating with the Health Ministry on occasions to promote the vaccination programme and using its own media to do the same.
“There are mischief-makers and there are those who would wish to say that we are promoting an anti-vax campaign, but I can assure you we are not. In fact, I firmly believe that we need to achieve herd immunity, [meaning] people need to get vaccinated.
“I have been publicising the fact that I took the vaccine, when I took the first one it was on television…I have encouraged people to do so and the party as a whole, we have been out there advocating for people to take the vaccine.
“All of our leading members have been vaccinated and I don’t know that we can do very much more”, Lovell said.
The longstanding ‘feud’ between the two parties has been on display over the course of the past year, with both having opposing views on economic development – particularly where rebounding from the pandemic is concerned – social assistance for those adversely affected by the pandemic and to some extent, the vaccinations that could bring about a semblance of normalcy.
Both believe that reaching herd immunity is essential for the stability of the country, but differ slightly on what is the most appropriate path to getting there.
A few months ago, the government teased the idea of making Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory, as public support was very low and failure to reach herd immunity in decent time would threaten the prospects of an economic rebound.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne noted then that the government was trying to avoid making that decision, but could be left with no option if vaccination figures remained low.
Lovell on the other hand, insists that – despite the urgent need for the population to be vaccinated – persons should be given all the relevant information and left to make their own personal choice.
“Our position is consistent with [that] of the Chairman of the government’s Covid-19 committee, Dr Lester Simon. He is a strong advocate for the vaccinations, but he – like me – [believes] it should not be something that you force people into doing.
“This is a golden opportunity for us to address the issue of hesitancy in a very constructive and sympathetic way, because there are many people who are not against the vaccine but they need more information.
“Therefore, it is for everyone who is supportive of the vaccination campaign to go out and persuade…but we do not support the view that persons should be forced in any way to [take a vaccine].”
It is important to note that vaccination figures have increased since then and the threat of ‘mandatory’ vaccinations have quietened, with the exception of those within the tourism sector who are being strongly asked to get vaccinated, as they are likely to face the most infection exposure over the next couple of months.
The UPP leader also reiterated his criticism of the PM in regard to vaccinations, following the latter’s public admission earlier this year that he had gotten the Moderna vaccine, ahead of the start of the public vaccination programme.
Lovell maintains that Browne “did not take it in a way that inspired confidence”, adding that “his taking of the Moderna vaccine was done in a way that led to greater suspicion.”
This latest Twitter discussion was hosted by Fidel Mitchell and J’Moul Francis as part of the weekly DadliPolitics series and it marks the second occasion that a political leader has utilized the platform, following Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s appearance on Kevz Politics’ PoliSpace.
The DadliPolitics Space is also scheduled to host Leader of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA), Joanne Massiah, for a similar discussion later this week, with PM Browne also set to make an appearance in the near future.