'We must protect ourselves'
Senator wants unvaccinated members of parliamentary committee to join meetings onlineWednesday, September 22, 2021
By Balford Henry
Government Senator Natalie Campbell Rodriques wants colleagues who are not vaccinated against the novel coronavirus restricted to online engagements of the joint select committee reviewing the proposal to make Portmore the country's 15th parish.
Senator Campbell Rodriques made the call after Dr Andrew Wheatley, chair of the committee, moved for a positive vote to adjourn its meeting at Gordon House yesterday morning.
“I am sorry to be this stickler today, but if we need to be asked to come back to this chamber for this [next] meeting, can we please ask that anybody who is not vaccinated attend the meeting online?” she said.
“We now have the facility for that to be facilitated, and we have to protect twofold: We have to protect our individual self, but we also need to protect the unvaccinated and as such, anybody who is not vaccinated, I am asking, Sir, if they can be encouraged, or asked specifically, to attend the meetings online?” Campbell Rodriques asked.
Having allowed Campbell Rodriques to complete her point, Dr Wheatley continued moving for the adjournment of the meeting. However, Senator Campbell Rodriques intervened, saying, “Chairman, please acknowledge what I have said.”
Wheatley informed her that it was noted, but she insisted, “No, Mr Chairman. I would like to know if you will act on this suggestion.”
Wheatley explained that he had heard her complaint and would have it noted. That, however, was not good enough for Campbell Rodriques.
“So, Mr Chairman, I have your word that anybody who is unvaccinated will not be sitting in the chamber with those who take the vaccine, next time?” she asked him.
Wheatley said that while he appreciated the point she was trying to make, “we have to be guided [as to whether] we have that authority to exclude persons”.
“No, we are not excluding anyone. We have a facility called online,” Campbell Rodriques insisted. “There is no rule that says that they have to be here in person.”
At this point, Opposition member Fitz Jackson intervened, saying, “If I may, in defence of my colleague. As I understand the member's plea, she was merely making a request for such members who are not vaccinated to desist from coming in person, one; and two, that the committee makes arrangements to facilitate such members.”
Wheatley said he noted the proposal, but pointed out that the member wanted him to give instructions which would necessitate him getting the advice of the parliamentary staff.
But Campbell Rodriques explained that she didn't want him to dismiss the argument.
“Sir, I want you to acknowledge what I said. To tell me that it will be discussed with the clerk [to Parliament], that no member shall sit in here unvaccinated, or be in here while we are here. We must protect ourselves in this chamber. We are locked up in here in air conditioning. So, I am asking, Sir, please.”
Eventually, Wheatley admitted that he accepted her argument and appreciated the position she had taken.
“From a public health perspective you have a very valid concern, and I will speak with the clerk and be guided accordingly,” he said.
“Thank you, Sir,” Campbell Rodriques concluded.
The chairman then adjourned the meeting.