Top doctor, lawyer oppose vaccine mandates amid COVID-19 surge

A veteran hotelier believes that vaccination should become a requirement for employment “at some point” in the tourism industry.

Owner of the Crane Resort Paul Doyle, who said he is finding ways to encourage his staff to take the COVID-19 vaccine, made the statement on Wednesday evening, as he pointed to the need for the industry to again fire on all engines.

He argued that by having more industry workers vaccinated it could lead to greater protection from the deadly virus, increased visitor arrivals and ultimately overall economic improvement.

However, insisting that the discussions surrounding vaccination were being approached in the “wrong way”, attorney-at-law Michelle Russell dismissed the suggestion that vaccination should be considered as a prerequisite for employment. She said such a move was coercion since it would exclude some from employment.

The views were expressed during the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) public relations committee webinar series on Wednesday, under the theme Vaccination in Tourism: Is it a Choice?

Doyle, who noted that only 350 of his close to 500 staff members were vaccinated, despite the inducements that were being offered, said vaccination should be required for employment in the tourism industry.

Stating that visitors to the island were “demanding” to be protected, the hotelier said “it is a two-way street”, and the issue of vaccination should be viewed from a moral, economic and marketing standpoint.

“By insisting on vaccinations we are not just potentially saving lives and health, but it is families’ lives, friends’ lives, fellow staff members’ lives and I think that is just the moral thing to do. I think we as business people are in a position to do something about it, and there is a moral imperative that we do something about it,” said Doyle.

Stating that it was a “huge, serious problem” that people in this region were not being vaccinated, Doyle said he believed it was due in part to “fake news”.

“I think if we did have it as a condition of employment, and I am not talking about mandatory vaccinations . . . but I think we should say ‘if you want to work in this industry it is a condition of employment’. We should give them time, we should offer testing as an alternative for a little while but testing is not as good as vaccinations,” he said.

“I think we need to move towards that, and I think that will move a lot of people. We have a lot of people sitting on the fence and I suspect that out of a 150 hold-outs there would be more than 100 saying ‘fine, I will take it. You know what, I save potentially lives, definitely health and jobs, the entire economy’. If more people do that we would be doing good. I think it is definitely for the greater good,” explained Doyle.

He pointed out that management at the Crane has done a range of things to try to “motivate” staff to be vaccinated, including holding zoom meetings with staff members and meeting with them in groups and bringing in doctors to speak with them and answer their questions.

“Little by little, we have gotten people around and ones and twos have come across. More recently we put on a raffle to try to convince people to be vaccinated and one of the prizes was a new iPhone and the other was an all-expenses paid vacation and money for entertainment. After all that we still have 150 people holding out,” said Doyle.

However, Russell, who made it clear that she was not against vaccination, said she was strongly against making it a requirement for people to be vaccinated to get gainful employment in the industry.

“When you are talking about choice and whether it is a choice there is no question, there is a choice – what you really want to say is ‘we want you to exercise that choice in favour of vaccination,” said Russell.

“I have never complained about the vaccine incentives. There is no law that stops it. I have never complained about education programmes or any such things that just help someone to make the decision, but it is absolutely incorrect to suggest that saying ‘if you are not vaccinated you can’t be employed’ is not a form of coercion . . .  It is,” she warned.

Meanwhile, President of the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP) Dr Lynda Williams said she believed the individuals’ choice to be vaccinated or not should remain.

However, she cautioned that the country was now at a stage where the health system could easily be overwhelmed if people were not vaccinated and do not adhere to the protocols.

“The right to choose, I agree has to be something that is there for the workers, but we are reaching a critical stage in this pandemic. We are reaching the stage where our health resources are being severely stressed and we are reaching the stage where the deaths will not be directly from COVID-19 but also indirectly from people not being able to access health services for simple things like sepsis, appendicitis, accidents and emergencies,” she cautioned.

The BAMP head pointed out that now the sector was regaining strength there was the possibility of more visitors coming in and spreading the virus, and it could have devastating consequences on the unvaccinated.

She also pointed out that there were situations where tourists who were vaccinated wanted to only be served by vaccinated team members in the tourism industry.

Such issues, she said, were “now being discussed” among officials.

Medical officials have indicated that those who are vaccinated against the coronavirus were less likely to catch it and less likely to transmit it. They have also noted that the science showed those who are vaccinated were less likely to get severely ill or die from the virus.

The BHTA has already indicated that it was in favour of tourism workers being vaccinated.

At least one west coast property, which is set to re-open next month, has already indicated that it would be requiring all guests and staff members to be vaccinated.