The health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are forcing governments around the world to rethink their strategies on combating the disease. The prolonged costs to governments as a result of the impacts of the pandemic are now forcing them to go down paths they never thought they would have had to tread.
For instance, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda will on Monday institute measures that many Saint Lucians may well consider too harsh when it comes to inoculation against the coronavirus.
According to that country’s government all unvaccinated government employees, including members of the public service, statutory corporations and companies in which the government owns majority shares shall be required to remain at home until proof of vaccination is provided.
The Antiguan government further stated that as of 1st October, 2021 no public sector employees, inclusive of the aforementioned shall be paid a salary or wage for the period of non-compliance with the current policy. The measures also called for all officers and support staff of Antigua’s police and defence forces to be vaccinated effective 1st October, 2021. The list of measures by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda is long.
What is happening in Antigua and other parts of the world is the realization by governments that the only way out of the COVID-19 trap is to institute some form of mandatory vaccination.
We are fully aware of Prime Minister Philip J Pierre’s reluctance to institute a mandatory vaccination policy, however we hope that this averseness is not etched in stone.
With hundreds of Saint Lucians testing positive every week for the past eight or so weeks, coupled with 148 COVID deaths to date and over 2,400 active cases; that decision by government not to go the route of mandatory vaccination as a measure to halt the virus’ spread should be revisited, even as a last resort.
The rapid progress of the Delta variant and other variants of the virus should inspire government to rethink its decision. Let’s be reasonable here, authorization of a national COVID-vaccination mandate could prevent inter-district spread of the virus, maintain a healthy workforce, improve productivity levels at a time when the virus itself threatens to lower such levels, sustain jobs by not increasing unemployment, and more.
While we understand that there will be legal challenges to a law authorizing mandatory vaccination, we also understand that there can be exemptions on religious and medical grounds. However, that aside, we believe that a challenge to a law of that nature will not cause a constitutional problem for government. After all, Saint Lucians have, from long ago, been vaccinated against diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, influenza, meningitis and others.
Our question to the government: Should it be found necessary for the public health or safety that mandatory COVID-19 vaccination is the way to go, will government continue to hold fast to its no mandatory vaccination policy?
With the havoc the Delta variant is causing to date, should another variant, more transmissible than Delta surface, will government continue to hold fast to its decision not to go down the path of mandatory vaccination?
There is a train of thought that says compulsory vaccination is an assault upon a person and a violation of due process in that it interferes in a person’s right to care for his/her own body in a way that he/she deems best.
But is individual liberty absolute, especially if it endangers the common good? Should not liberty, meaning real liberty, include the duty to restrain from harming others?
Should real liberty, or the freedom given to a person as enshrined in our Constitution, mean that one person, or a minority of persons in the country, have the power to dominate the majority, a majority that is acting to protect health and safety of the entire country?
In the words of Senator Alvina Reynolds the medical facilities are “stretched and stressed” to breaking point. The same can be said for the whole of society, especially the economy and education. Mr. Prime Minister, you have said on many an occasion you will follow the science; perhaps the time has come to recognize that the government’s responsibility is not so much following as leading. The science is only one facet of the issue. The economy, education, social intercourse, familial mutual support, sporting activities are all issues of which leadership must be cognizant.
Mr. Prime Minister, please act now, rather than later.