AN appeal by Anglican archbishop of the West Indies The Most Rev Howard Gregory for the Jamaican Government to embrace mandatory vaccination against COVID-19 is being fiercely resisted by other church leaders, one of whom seemed to suggest that the Anglican superior should stick to preaching and not dabble in science.
“God never raised pastors to administer science, he raised them up to preach the gospel,” Bishop Romeon Facey from Freedom Evangelical Association in Portmore, St Catherine, told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.
“The church has no position calling for mandatory vaccination. That's not the duty of a pastor, and I disagree with the archbishop. I do not believe that vaccines should be mandated because it goes against the human being's free will, and it goes against the freedom of choice that is given to Jamaicans through the constitution and the charter of rights. Everybody has freedom to choose what they do with their body,” Bishop Facey argued.
Archbishop Gregory made the appeal to the Government yesterday morning, saying he was doing so against the background of continued vaccine hesitancy, the high COVID-19 infection and death rates in the country, and disclosure of the prospect that vaccines may be dumped because of the expiration of their recommended life.
“These are not normal times when every individual can choose to play by their own rules while untold suffering and loss of lives, well-being, the ability to conduct one's daily life and the return to vibrancy in the economy are at stake. We are in a critical time which requires unusual action; and the good of the whole must count at some point,” Archbishop Gregory said in a news release.
“It seems clear that the Government, through the leadership, must do what leaders do in times of a crisis and take decisive action,” he said, and argued that, while there are divergent views related to human rights and the law with regard to mandatory vaccines, there are sufficient legal luminaries who have pointed to the appropriateness of such action.
He said that while mandatory vaccination does not involve physically restraining people, the Government has a responsibility to protect citizens from infection by requiring proof of vaccination from public sector workers, as well as their customers.
Likewise, he said employers in various sectors should have the discretion to determine the working environment they wish to promote for the well-being of their staff and the public they serve.
Last week, Prime Minister Andrew Holness reiterated that he will not be forcing anyone to take the COVID-19 vaccine. However, he argued that mandatory vaccination will become unavoidable when a larger segment of the population becomes inoculated and demand that they should not be restricted by safety measures because some people refuse to take the jab.
Yesterday also, Archbishop Gregory described as “reprehensible” the requirement for employees in some areas of the hospitality industry to be immunised, while there was no similar provision for the wider society.
He also criticised Jamaicans who indicated they would take the vaccine if and when this was required for them to travel to the United States, saying “It is time we assert a greater sense of self-respect and dignity in doing what we know is right and in the public good, rather than await an external agency to enforce what we should do under appropriate national leadership for ourselves.”
Pointing out that he is fully vaccinated and has subsequently taken several polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and antigen tests, the archbishop repeated his appeal for all Jamaicans, and Christians in particular, to take the vaccine as an expression of their duty to care for themselves and their responsibility to their brothers and sisters in Christ.
However, Bishop Facey, in countering Archbishop Gregory's argument, said that there are people who have had adverse reactions to vaccines. He also insisted that people should not be alienated for not wanting to take the jab.
“When vaccines become mandatory [common] services would be hindered for some people. This is a policy that has been pushed in North America and in Europe that Jamaica has adopted that is not good for Jamaica based on the economy that we have and the culture that we have as a nation,” Bishop Facey said.
“I believe that we should go for a solution that suits Jamaica. This case doesn't mean that one size fits all; there have been people who have received the vaccine and they are fine, but I have known of cases where people have received vaccines and they are not well,” he said.
“There are countries that have up to 84 per cent vaccination that have not achieved herd immunity. Our prime minister said that if we can vaccinate 65 per cent of our population then we would be on our way to herd immunity. If we look at other countries, America has about 65 per cent now and they have not reached herd immunity, as a matter of a fact, the cases are soaring. Israel has vaccinated 84 per cent and the cases are soaring,” Bishop Facey argued.
National director of Jamaica Youth for Christ Reverend Herro Blair Jr agreed. He said, while he is fully vaccinated, he does not believe that the COVID-19 vaccine should be mandated since there is still a chance that a vaccinated person can become infected and transmit the virus.
“I who am vaccinated can transmit it just like someone who is not vaccinated. I think it is a responsible step to become vaccinated, but I don't think, at this stage, we want to be forcing the issue during COVID when people have not been able to pay their bills,” Blair Jr said.
“At what point do we draw the line and make it fully mandatory?” he asked. “I don't think that time is now. I think we still have to give people the opportunity to come to a realisation that this is necessary. How do you tell somebody that they can't come back to work when they are just putting a child in school, when their health issues and other issues are taking place? It is not the Christian thing to do, and it is not the right thing to do,” he added.
Pastor for the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Spanish Town, Nathan Jackson, also voiced disagreement with Archbishop Gregory. “I think people must be respected in terms of their rights and their body,” he told the Observer.
He said: “Proper education has not taken place for that to be something that you can say let's go for it and mandate it. It's a new norm for everybody; remember, people are people, you have to engage, you have to educate. You don't have to rush because the world is spinning very quickly. Some things you have to make your own judgement call on, you cannot ignore the concerns that some [people] have.”
Meanwhile, pastor at Boulevard Baptist Church Reverend Devon Dick stated that he is of the belief that mandatory vaccinations will present the Government with challenges.
“There would have to have exceptions, because there are some people who are advised, for various reasons, not to take the vaccine. We cannot make it mandatory,” Dick said.
Providing a possible solution to the vaccine hesitancy that the country is facing, he said, “What needs to be done quickly is having more access points so it's easier for people to get [the vaccine], and you don't have to wait in these long lines.”
Up to 9:30 am yesterday the island had administered some 715,860 doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Of that number, 495,138 were first doses; 197,024 were second doses and 23,698 were the single dose Johnson & Johnson.