Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday made it clear that no one will be forced to take the COVID-19 vaccine, even as he finally put a timeline on when his Government will roll out what he has now labelled a vaccine option that will kick in once half of the country’s population is inoculated.

“By November we will reach one million doses. And then, after that, the numbers are going to increase gradually. When we pass the 50 per cent mark, then there will be no question about the need for having a vaccine option,” he said.

He was avoiding the use of the word ‘mandate’, he added, because vaccination against COVID-19 would not be made compulsory on his watch.

Holness was in St Ann on his latest tour of vaccination sites and community drive-throughs to drum up support for the country’s straggling vaccination levels against the deadly COVID-19.

“We are in the process of developing a national consensus on vaccine options. I’m deliberately avoiding the use of the word mandate because, ultimately, in the minds of some Jamaicans, it conjures up an infringement of their rights. And there are those who interpret the word mandate to be compulsory… and that somehow the Government is going to hold you down and inject you. This is not the intention of the Government. If there are Jamaicans who have that view, I would want to put those fears to rest,” the prime minister said.

The issue of making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory has been a contentious one globally as those for and against the vaccine draw battle lines on the issue.

Jamaica’s main parliamentary Opposition, the People’s National Party, has made it clear that it would not support mandatory vaccination in the country at this time. At the same time, major private sector groups have called for a clear workplace vaccination policy and some individual companies — including the country’s largest bank, NCB — have made vaccination or regular testing a requirement.

One influential umbrella group, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, has also called on the Government, as the country’s largest employer, to implement a workplace policy for State employees.

However, the issue of mandatory vaccination has been gingerly skirted in most discussions.

Yesterday, Holness conceded that a national vaccine mandate was unlikely to work as it would merely harden resistance of those opposed to taking the shot. Referencing the ongoing celebration of National Heroes’ Week he made the point that freedom was at the essence of the country’s struggle and he would never infringe upon that freedom. The goal, he said, was to ensure that, in exercising their freedom, individuals act responsibly.

“Everybody in Jamaica is free. We take freedom as a priority in this country. But freedom comes with responsibility. You’re free to do nonsense. But your nonsense should not affect the people who have used their freedom wisely. And that’s what it comes down to,” he said. “So if you believe that the vaccine is some kind of New World Order, apocalyptic, destructive force, that’s your business. But don’t affect the farm worker who believes that the vaccine is his ticket to economic progress and prosperity.”

He had noted, he said, many young workers from the farming and hospitality industries among those taking the vaccine at the sites he visited in St Ann yesterday. None of them, he said, expressed displeasure at the US Government’s requirement for them to be vaccinated.

“I don’t hear one man a quarrel with [US President Joe] Biden ’bout that. Not one man raised them voice and a quarrel. But when we say here, to protect our own economic interests, vaccinate, everybody a quarrel,” he said with a chuckle.

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