Private and public sector moving towards mandatory vaccination for employees

KINGSTOWN, ST. VINCENT — “Vaccinated only need apply” might be the notice affixed to job advertisements in some Caribbean jurisdictions moving forward as regional employers and governments weigh mandatory vaccination policies for certain workers.

Some private employers, such as hotels and restaurants, have already made such moves, requiring staff to either become vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to periodic COVID testing — often at the expense of the worker. Prospective public sector workers may soon face a similar decision as some governments move to enforce mandatory vaccination for civil servants.

The government of (SVG) was among those moving to debate requiring certain frontline government workers to take the vaccine “in the interest of public health” unless their doctor advised against it or unless they “in good faith” objected for religious regions and their employer agreed to alternative arrangements.

The official opposition and several unions opposed the suggestion, arguing that it would constitute a “violation of rights” for the workers.

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    SVG Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves argued that the policy would not make vaccination “mandatory” as individuals would not be legally penalized or punished for refusing the shot — they would just have to decide whether they accept a job that requires vaccination. But Zita Barnwell, a lawyer representing workers’ unions, refuted that point.

    “Even if the government is removing the word ‘voluntary’ and saying ‘it’s not mandatory’, the way you are boxed in is oppressive and is forcing you to take the vaccine,” Barnwell said.

    A protest against debate of the proposed policy led to Gonsalves being struck with a rock and hospitalized, but he nonetheless indicated his intention to proceed with the matter.

    While it remains to be seen whether the policy will ultimately be adopted in SVG, other Caribbean nations have toyed with similar ideas, despite many of their governments generally sticking to a policy of voluntary inoculation.

    A Bahamian health official has suggested that nation’s government was considering mandatory vaccination for healthcare workers. The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda has threatened mandatory vaccination is likely forthcoming, and the prime minister of Jamaica has also hinted at the possibility. Meanwhile, in the Cayman Islands, the government has required at least 80 percent of residents to be vaccinated before tourism can restart.

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