THE Government is being urged to put the matter of compensation for vaccine injury on the table alongside any discussion, or move, towards a COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
Vincent Morrison, president of the Union of Clerical Administrative and Supervisory Employees, and Carla Gulotta, head of Stand Up Jamaica, made the recommendation against the background of indications that the matter of mandatory vaccination in Jamaica could be brought to the fore shortly.
While the manufacturers have been indemnified against vaccine injury claims, the Government has not yet set up a formal compensation mechanism for its national vaccination programme, which means anyone who has a claim must go through the courts.
Gulotta and Morrison say that in-depth and meaningful dialogue needs to be had with all stakeholders, alongside an extensive public education campaign about vaccination, before any move to mandatory vaccination is contemplated.
“I am totally in favour of the vaccine but I am very reluctant on forcing people who don't want to do it. I think there should be dialogue; there should be a huge campaign showing examples of what has happened in other countries with vaccination,” Gulotta said as she pointed to the more than 80 per cent vaccination rate in Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic and which has now been able to return to normality.
At the same time, Gulotta said compensation for those who may need it post-vaccination has to be a part of the discussions: “You cannot say take it and then you are not responsible for that. I think some form of assistance should be set in place,” declared Gulotta.
In February, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Chubb Limited inked an agreement on behalf of the COVAX facility for the administration of a no-fault compensation programme.
It is the first international vaccine injury compensation mechanism offering eligible individuals in these countries an avenue to receive compensation for rare but serious adverse conditions associated with COVAX-distributed vaccines.
This is expected to reduce the need for persons to the go the lengthy and costly route of seeking recourse through the courts.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has said that a vaccination mandate could become unavoidable when a larger segment of the population becomes inoculated and pushback still exists against being subjected to movement restrictions because some people refuse to take the vaccines.
“At this stage the Government is not considering implementing mandatory vaccination; however, probablyit will emerge in the near future,” Holness said during a recent vaccination blitz in Trelawny.
In the meantime Morrison stressed the need for a stakeholders' consultation instead of what he termed is a “bits and pieces approach”.
According to Morrison, all the issues around vaccination should be aired and ironed out, including compensation for vaccination injury.
“There are some who don't want to take it but later they might see the need for it. I know for a fact that even those people who don't want to take the vaccine, they want to see the COVID-19 problem solved. They may have personal situation, and I don't think the vaccine should be mandatory. It should be left to the choice of those who don't want to take it,” said Morrison.
He argued that some employers may be using the COVID-19 situation as a panacea for workplace safety, pointing to the languishing of the Occupational Safety and Health Act for the past three decades, and little care for workplace safety by many entities.
The Government has set a target of administering one million doses of vaccines by November 30, with 1.9 million jabs to be administered by for March 2022.