Almost 5,900 employees of the State must prove by November 19, 2021 that they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, failing which they will not be allowed to enter their respective workplaces, and will be treated as being absent from duty without leave.
The final piece of the legal framework needed for the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines(SVG), to begin enforcing its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for certain categories of workers was put in place this Tuesday, October 19 when SR&O No. 28 of 2021 – The Public Health (Public bodies Special Measures) Rules, 2021 was published in the Government Gazette.
The rules stipulate that all health care employees; permanent secretaries and heads of departments; teachers appointed to public educational institutions, assisted private schools or public schools; ancillary staff employed within public educational institutions or public schools; employees of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Community College; members of the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force; staff of Her Majesty’s Prisons; public officers within the Passport and Immigration Services Department; public officers within the Customs and Excise Department; public officers within the House of Assembly; public officers within the Environmental Health Division of the Public Health Department; and employees of the Port Authority, employees of the Argyle International Airport Company or persons employed to perform duties at an airport or seaport, must receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the date of commencement of the Rules, which is November 19, 2021.
The 2000 teachers and ancillary staff at schools make up the largest group, followed by health care employees of which there are approximately 1400, then police officers (including firemen and members of the Coast Guard), numbering approximately 1250. Health care employees include those performing clinical or non-clinical services including administrative staff, security guards, cooks, cleaners, attendants or any other ancillary staff; and home helpers providing care for the elderly under the programme operated by the Ministry of social development.
Rule 5 of the SR&O states that every employee in the specified categories must be vaccinated against the coronavirus-disease 2019 unless they are granted an exemption.
If the employee has taken one dose of a vaccine that requires two doses on or before the commencement of the Rules, the employee must be treated as vaccinated and take the second dose within the period approved by the manufacturer of the particular vaccine for taking the second dose. Employees must provide proof of vaccination by submitting his vaccination card to his employer.
The Rules state that an employee who is required to be vaccinated may be granted exemption on medical or religious grounds only. To be exempted on medical grounds, the employee must provide a written certificate from a medical practitioner approved by the Medical Officer of Health certifying that vaccination is not advisable on the medical ground stipulated in the certificate, while exemption
on religious grounds will only be granted if the employer is able to make alternative arrangements to accommodate the employee.
The Rules stipulate that employees who have been granted exemptions must be regularly tested for COVID-19 and if the exemption is given on conditions, the employee must comply with the conditions.
According to Rule 4 of the SR& O, those employees who do not fall within a category mandated to be vaccinated will be required at certain times and periods “as may be determined by the CMO and notified in writing to the employee by his employer”, to present to his employer a negative rapid test or PCT test on reporting to work. The first two tests for every employee will be administered free of charge; and for every test after the first two tests, a fee of $25 is payable for every test, unless the employee is entitled to free medical services under a written law.
An employee who “without reasonable excuse fails to comply with Rule 4 or 5 must not enter the workplace and is to be treated as being absent from duty without leave,” and if that employee is “absent from duty without leave for a continuous period of 10 working days, unless declared otherwise by the [Public Service Commission], shall be deemed to have resigned his office and thereupon the office becomes vacant and officer ceases to be an officer.”
Any employee who enters the workplace in contravention of the Rules “commits an act of misconduct and is liable to be disciplined in accordance with the (a) Public Service Commission Regulations or any other relevant written law, in the case of a public officer; (b) or relevant laws that regulate the service of the employee, in the case of every other employee,” the Rules state.
On September 27, Chairpersons and members of the boards of Statutory Corporations, State-owned Companies and Public Enterprises were also advised that they will be asked to demit office if they have not taken at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by October 15.
The Rules, which were gazetted on Tuesday are in relation to Sections 43B and 147 of the Public Health Act, which was amended in Parliament on August 6, 2021.
Minister of Health St Clair Prince, who tabled the bill said the amendments to the Act were “Yet another aspect of our response to this emergency that has crippled this entire globe and which threatens to derail completely, our social and economic situation here in St Vincent and the Grenadines”.
“It is nothing more, it is nothing less. This amendment requires certain front-line workers to be vaccinated in the public interest. Of course, we have been hearing all throughout the country about rights and whose rights we want to take away, but we are not hearing the other part; whose rights are being infringed as a result of the monopoly which some people think they have on rights,” Prince said.
The health minister said the bill, which was passed in the wee hours of the morning of Friday, August 6 without opposition support, will go a long way in tidying up the Public Health Act.
The Rules expire on the day the Minister declares that the public health emergency has ended.
The population of St Vincent and the Grenadines is approximately 110,000, and as at October 30, only 38,030 vaccines had been administered, 23,127 of these being first doses and 14,903 second doses.