Prime Minister Gaston Browne says Antigua and Barbuda will be entering 2022 with most, if not all of the measures put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, removed, whether or not a significant number of people has been vaccinated.
“I want to make a point here too that we are moving towards dropping the state of emergency, the curfews and so on and eliminate most of the restrictions as we can by the end of the year, the latest.
“Now, lest say if we only get 60 per cent of the population vaccinated, or 70 per cent and we decide to drop those restrictions, it means therefore that individuals would come exposed, those unvaccinated persons, Browne said.
He said that nationals were given sufficient time to get vaccinated to curb the spread of the virus that has so far killed 85 people and infected 3, 503 others since March last year.
“We are not going to go into 2022 limping and creating more stress and strain for the economy. The economy cannot take any more stress, cannot take any more strain and those who may want to suggest that it may be irresponsible for us to do so, well, you know what, our people would have had several months to get vaccinated.
“So, by then, whoever is not vaccinated by then would have taken a conscious decision not to get vaccinated and if the unfortunate happens and they get ill, or they die that’s the choice they would have made,” Browne said.
Last week, Information Minister, Melford Nicholas, said that public sector employees who would have contracted COVID-19 and are in the early stages of recovery will be considered ‘medically exempt’ from the government’s mandatory vaccination policy.
He was responding to a public outcry that despite being in possession of a “letter” from the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), advising of their status, some employees complained that they were still being sent home.
According to health officials, persons who have recovered from the virus must wait for a period of several weeks before they are medically advised to take a COVID vaccine.
Nicholas said that those alleged incidents are a result of some inconsistency and that the situation should be addressed soon.
“We did discuss that with the CMO … and there was clearly a gap in the protocol in that respect. So, the fact that (the COVID recoveries) are unable to – on advice from the Ministry of Health – take a vaccine because they’re just recovering from COVID without that four-week gap, that will be considered as a medical reason from them not to be able to take the vaccine.
“That protocol will now be established, in discussion with the Cabinet Secretary, the Chief Medical Officer and the Permanent Secretaries,” Nicholas said, adding also that for the duration of their ineligibility to take the vaccine, the employees must submit to twice weekly OVID testing, to ensure the safety of those they come in contact with.
The government has warned that the salaries of those public sector employees who remain unvaccinated will be withheld – unless the employees can provide a valid medical exemption – while they remain away from work.
Trade unions here have taken legal action to get the government to reverse the policy, claiming that the vaccine mandate is too harsh.