Protests held against proposed amendment to Public Health Act
PROTESTERS have taken to the streets of Kingstown once again this month; this time to demonstrate against an amendment to be made to the Public Health Act in Parliament, which they believe will make vaccinations mandatory in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
But Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has denied that the amendments to be made to the Act will enact a mandatory COVID19 vaccination programme.
The sitting of Parliament originally scheduled for yesterday, was postponed until August 5, where the Minister of Health is expected to table two bills; the Public Health (Amendment) Bill 2021, and the Medical Officers (Amendment) Bill 2021.
Several people believe that these two bills are the first step by the government to make vaccination mandatory for adults and children, regardless of individual reasons for not doing so.
“What the amendment which is coming on Thursday, is not an amendment to impose mandatory vaccination. It’s to tidy up the law so that you can permit the making of regulations in specific cases to say to an employee in the state public enterprise and the like, front-line workers, well if you have to work here, you have to take the vaccine,” Gonsalves said while speaking on Star Radio yesterday.
The Prime Minister seemed to suggest instances for possible transfers, where an individual “can say ‘I don’t want to work here’. Whether an accommodation can be made for you to work elsewhere, well that’s another question. But nobody is forcing you to take the vaccine, nobody is acting against your will,” he stressed.
“It’s a common-sense thing, which I believe, even amongst persons who don’t want to take the vaccine for one reason or the other, say well, they see sense in certain front-line workers being required to take the vaccine but it is not a compulsion. You have a choice. You take it or you don’t take it, but the requirement for that particular job would be that you take it,” he said.
Gonsalves noted however, that it has been proven that vaccines are key in the world returning to a form of normalcy.
He further noted that legislative frameworks are being put in place all over the world, including in the USA, Canada, parts of Europe and the Caribbean, for certain workers to be vaccinated.
Under the current Public Health Act, Section 27B states that “the following persons are exempt from orders made under section 27A (3) (g) and (h) – (a) a person who makes a statement in writing that a person believes that medical treatment for the prevention or cure of a disease is prejudicial to the person’s health or that the person’s beliefs are opposed to it, and furnishes the statement to the health officer… This is one of the sections where an amendment has been proposed.
The proposed amendment states that “a person is exempt from an order under Section 27A (3)(h) if the person produces a certificate signed by a medical practitioner approved by the Chief Medical Officer, certifying that the medical treatment for the prevention or cure of the disease is not advisable on medical grounds”.
In other words, whereas the current Act allows anyone to write such a statement, the proposed amendment will require that a statement for exemption comes from a medical officer.
Another amendment is also being proposed to Section 43B (2) to paragraph (a) of the current Act, which reads “establishing a voluntary immunisation programme for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines or any part of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines…” The amendment proposed will delete “a voluntary” and insert “an”.
Opposition Leader, Dr Godwin Friday said this week that while he supports vaccination, he is against compulsory vaccination.
Friday, along with his family were among the first persons to be vaccinated in February this year when the Ministry of Health began to roll out it’s vaccination programme.
“The biggest problem that we have now is the COVID19 pandemic. This government, quite frankly, has made a mess of it,” the opposition leader said during a virtual public meeting on Tuesday night. They were talking out of both sides of their mouths, behaving on the one hand as though it’s nothing to fear and then on the other, they want to force people to take a vaccine. I am for vaccination but not for compulsory vaccination. As Keith Mitchell say, I not for that.”
Friday said Vincentians should be encouraged to do what they must, which is to inform themselves and to take recommendations from persons to have the knowledge and information, to make the right decision.
He added that he believes the right decision is to be vaccinated.
“But Ralph and the ULP, they have talked all around this issue and now they are at a situation where they want to force people and that will only create a worse situation as there will be a backlash. So, we have to find a way forward in this terrible situation that we have found ourselves in and I know that our good people will look at it seriously and do what is right for themselves and for our nation,” Friday said.
But Gonsalves is of the view that Friday is the one speaking from the corners of his mouth. And he described the opposition leader’s comments on the issue as “opportunistic”.
“The Leader of the Opposition is opportunistic on this issue. He says, ‘I’m saying to you, take the vaccine. Please take it because I take it’ and then all his utterances are, for all practical purposes, anti-vax…so he takes it for himself. On one corner of his mouth, he says ‘take it. I’m asking you to take it’ but every effort to put things in place – so he will go to a hotel with unvaccinated persons and persons who don’t want to do any testing, serving food?” he said on radio yesterday.
The Prime Minister noted that everyone in the tourism industry locally, regionally and internationally has said that tourists do not want to interact with persons who are not vaccinated.
Gonsalves added that while no one is being forced to take the vaccine and that it will not be made mandatory, there are certain categories of workers where if they do not want to take the vaccine, they cannot be allowed to work in that specific area.