Gov't must take a position on mandating vaccinesTuesday, September 07, 2021
Seven months ago in this space we advised the Government to place serious focus on preparing our country for the vaccine passports or mandates from other countries which were fast-emerging as part of the management arsenal to reopen their economies.
It did not take a crystal ball to see that development coming as, at the time, nine of the countries with the biggest economies had either announced implementation or indicated they would be implementing COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
The world is racing towards such common sense arrangements, including our biggest trading partner and tourism source market, the United States, we said. That was based on the devastating run of the virus and the unbelievably high resistance to vaccines by large swathes of populations, especially the poorest, least educated, and most vulnerable.
Whether we want to or not, Jamaica will soon have to deal frontally with vaccine mandates. We suspect that the Government was testing the waters last week when Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte tepidly suggested the country might have to go that way.
A clearer indication that we can't remain on the fence for much longer was given by veteran trade unionist Mr Vincent Morrison of the Union of Clerical, Administrative, and Supervisory Employees (UCASE).
In yesterday's edition of this newspaper, Mr Morrison complained bitterly that the Government had stood by as dozens of workers are being ousted from their jobs because they refuse to be COVID-19-vaccinated.
“We are not supporting mandatory vaccination. Until the Parliament determines that the way to go is by way of mandatory vaccination, we are not supporting it,” the UCASE president said.
Mr Morrison seems to have been freaked out also by Jamaican Bar Association President Alexander Williams, who stated he knew of no law which prohibited mandatory vaccination against COVID-19 by an employee.
The trade unionist might have been a tad melodramatic, but his strident statement represented a call to the Government to take a firm position on vaccine mandates and not to sit by timidly as companies agonise over what to do.
For our part, we are not against vaccine mandates which are meant to save lives and protect our battered economy. However, we are reluctant to support them at the moment, not wanting to see basic civil liberties eroded, without full justification.
The countries which have gone the way of mandates have not gone all out, such as compulsory vaccination by all eligible citizens, except in a few cases, like Fiji. Most have chosen to phase them in, starting with the most vulnerable areas, notably the public health sector.
It is not lost on Jamaicans that the US is requiring all immigrants, as of October coming, to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. We'd be surprised if any Jamaican turns down an immigrant visa in favour of not taking the vaccine.
We would be more supportive of vaccine mandates when we are fully convinced that enough vaccines are available for all eligible Jamaicans; that access to vaccines have been vastly improved, and that the public education on vaccination is continuing unabated.
There is much work left to be done, as the number of Jamaicans vaccinated is just about 600,000, even while cases of illness, hospitalisations and deaths are mounting from the virus.
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