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By Shermain Bique-Charles

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The Opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) has issued a stark warning to the Gaston Browne-led administration that it would challenge any attempt to mandate Covid-19 vaccinations in Antigua and Barbuda.

The UPP’s legal spokesman, Leon Chaku Symister is insisting that residents need to stand up for their rights if taking the jab becomes compulsory.

Prime Minister Browne has said that residents won’t be forced to take the coronavirus vaccine; however, he maintains that those who refuse to do so will be left out of societal functions, eventually.

However, Symister said if the government seeks to make vaccinations compulsory, as indicated by Browne last month, it will be challenged.

“We will challenge it the court of public opinion, we will challenge it in the court of justice, and if need be, we will challenge it in the streets of St John’s. We cannot, as a people, continue to allow Gaston Browne to behave like a dictator, ignoring our laws,” Symister said.

Furthermore, he told residents to gear up and prepare themselves to defend the rights they enjoy and realise their obligation to secure those rights for their future generation.

He also said that a move to mandate vaccinations would be in contravention of Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Antigua and Barbuda acceded to in July of 2019 and which came into effect in November of the same year.

 “This is saying that [any] government that signed this treaty who believe in obeying the law, they must honour them. The Gaston Browne administration agreed to this in 2019,” he said.

But the party’s threat of legal challenge, according to Symister, does not mean that the UPP is against vaccinations.

“We are not saying that; it’s voluntary. The government should use the recourses that they have and take a public health perspective rather than a political benefit perspective. This is all we are asking,” Symister added.

A $50 food voucher and other perks is the latest strategy being used by the government to encourage residents to get vaccinated. Some have criticised the move which has become quite popular around the world.

However, the government is worried that with the current slowdown in people opting to take the vaccine, the country would not reach herd immunity anytime soon.

There is also another concern that the vaccines could expire.

So far, just under 32,000 people in the country have received the first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and almost 2,600 have had a second dose.