After weeks of saying his Administration is not yet at the stage of implementing mandatory COVID-19 vaccination, Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday left no doubt that some form of vaccine mandate could be imposed by the start of November.
“There will come a time when we will have to insist upon persons taking the vaccines or be restricted in certain ways. I have already sounded that warning, that notice, and it is not for fearmongering, it is just a matter of public duty and process before we implement any such thing,” Holness declared during a tour of vaccination sites in Clarendon North Central yesterday.
According to Holness, the Government understands that it must uphold the right of Jamaicans to respect and freedom, but the vaccination issues cannot be left hanging indefinitely.
“The Government that you elect can’t come and impose on you because the very act of that imposition would cause you to resist, and that is why the Government that you elect… would never do that. I respect your right and your freedom,” said Holness as he argued that this is why he has been touring the island and reasoning with Jamaicans in their communities in addition to the national media vaccination campaign.
“But it can’t go on forever,” warned Holness.
“There is one voiceless victim in all of this, which I am really passionate about, and I think that is the area that has suffered the most, and that is the education system and our children. They are not out there complaining, but they have suffered the most because some people are choosing to pursue their own freedom without thinking… how this impacts a fulfilled life for others.
“And the longer we take to bring the pandemic under control, and control the virus, is the greater the impact will be on our children. I will not allow that to happen. So, yes, we will respect people’s rights, we will follow the process before we do anything to infringe on people’s rights, but the two things can’t continue in parallel. The children must go back to school; they have suffered the most,” said a strident Holness.
Responding to a resident who was disappointed that her children, who have been vaccinated, are not enjoying face-to-face classes because of those who are not vaccinated, Holness said that is one of issues being discussed.
“I think it is becoming increasingly clear that the Government has done more than enough in bringing information about the vaccines, in providing the vaccines, and in encouraging persons to take the vaccines. So we are reaching that critical point where we can start to take differential action, such as what you have said — allow the vaccinated children back into the classroom,” said Holness.
He underscored that Jamaica will not return to normal as long as a large section of the population refuses to take the vaccine. He warned that, “Those people who want to return to normal and don’t take the vaccine, nutten nuh go so.”
The prime minister noted that some opinion leaders, journalists, and others have been calling on the Government to immediately impose vaccine mandates, but he argued that while they have a duty to make this call on seeing the need, they also have a duty to explain that the process to get to these mandates is very involved and has some specific steps that the Administration needs to go through.
“We started our vaccination campaign in earnest in August so we still have a little way to go to perfect — even though we can’t really perfect the process — but to do the process as best as we can, of reasoning with our people, giving them the information, addressing their concerns, and I think that, as soon as that process is done, which can’t go on past the end of this month… that we will have to move and announce a policy as to how we come out of COVID,” he said.
In the meantime, the prime minister dismissed reports of a division in his Administration over the mandatory vaccination.
“Yes, people are expressing different opinions and different views, [but] there is benefit in that,” argued Holness.