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Trade unions caution against early vaccine-or-test mandate

Published:Friday | October 29, 2021 | 12:11 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
Nurse Jennifer Pearson administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to Krigon James at the St James Parish Council Care Centre in Montego Bay recently. The vaccine task force has called for the implementation of a vaccine-or-test mandate for public-s
Nurse Jennifer Pearson administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to Krigon James at the St James Parish Council Care Centre in Montego Bay recently. The vaccine task force has called for the implementation of a vaccine-or-test mandate for public-sector workers.

Some trade unionists have cautioned against a vaccine-or-test mandate for public-sector workers in the short term, arguing that such an approach would be premature.

In the context of slow inoculation nationally, the Professor Gordon Shirley-chaired National COVID-19 Vaccination Operationalisation Task Force suggested on Wednesday that the Government implement a vaccine-or-test mandate for public-sector workers.

President general of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), Kavan Gayle, said the vaccine-or-test mandate in the public sector would be hasty if introduced in the short term, noting that there were issues to resolve first.

“I am still not yet at that stage where workers should provide a negative PCR because it would be a cost to them,” Gayle said.

The BITU boss said the unions have been encouraging their members to take the vaccines.

However, he noted that based on feedback, a lot of Jamaicans have expressed a preference for the Pfizer vaccine.

“So if there is a preference for a particular brand, why not try to bring that brand in?” he questioned.

Having consulted with employees at various workplaces, Gayle said the general feedback was an acceptance of the Pfizer vaccine.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness made it clear in a statement to Parliament on Tuesday that batches of the Pfizer vaccine that are expected to arrive in the near future would be set aside first for adults and children who had received their first dose. He said that additional Pfizer vaccines would be designated solely for 12- to 18-year-olds.

President of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions, Helene Davis-Whyte, said the unions have noted that the vaccine-or-test mandate was expected to come after efforts to provide information to employees have been exhausted.

She insisted that there should be extensive communication and consultations with employees before a policy of mandating the jab or imposing a PCR test was introduced.

The JCTU president cautioned that if a draconian approach was taken too early, this could turn off people who needed more time and information to be persuaded to take the jab.

“We believe that the Government and employers need to give time to programmes involving communication and information-sharing before they get to that point.”

Several companies that had introduced these programmes and taken the vaccines to the staff have seen vaccination rates as high as 80 per cent, Davis-Whyte added.

“Right now, I don’t think that we are actually dealing with a hardcore set of objectors in Jamaica. There are several persons who, based on all the misinformation going around, they are really in two minds about taking the vaccine,” she told The Gleaner.

LOST BATTLE

Davis-Whyte argued that the authorities had lost the information battle on social media, noting that vaccine falsehoods have influenced the decisions of many.

“We are not necessarily opposed, but what we are saying is that you have to do more work because we don’t think that enough work has been done,” the union leader asserted.

Dr Mindi Fitz-Henley, president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association (JMDA), said that while she wanted to see all healthcare workers vaccinated, there was a subset of persons who were unable to take the jab for medical reasons.

She told The Gleaner that her association has been encouraging health personnel to get vaccinated, noting that the JMDA desired to see a 100 per cent vaccination rate among medical front-line workers.

The JMDA president said that health workers were in direct contact with patients for prolonged periods, and despite being donned with appropriate gear, lengthy exposure to persons with COVID-19 posed a higher risk of them contracting the virus and infecting others.

Fitz-Henley said the JMDA would first have to engage its membership and stakeholders for feedback on the task force’s lobby for a vaccine-or-test mandate.