ST JOHN’S, Antigua (CMC) – Prime Minister Gaston Browne has warned of the possibility of implementing a mandatory vaccination programme in Antigua and Barbuda as he criticised persons who were encouraging others not to participate in the national vaccination programme aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is not a threat,” Browne said on his weekend radio programme, saying that the pandemic has had a tremendous impact on the socio-economic development of the island since the first case was diagnosed here last March.
“We are struggling on a monthly basis to meet salaries and wages and you are telling me that Antigua and Barbuda, as one of the hardest-hit countries, one of the most vulnerable, you are telling me we have the luxury of not getting vaccinated?
“Well I want to say definitively to the people of Antigua and Barbuda that we do not have the luxury of not getting vaccinated. And if we do not get the herd immunity perhaps in the next 60 to 90 days, there is going to be weeping and gnashing of teeth in this country,” Browne said.
He added, “So people need to take responsibility and go out there and get vaccinated. You got to do it for yourself, for your children, your friends, the entire community and also for future generations because as I said the economic and social scars, they are getting deeper and deeper day by day.
“This type of hesitancy and reluctance to get vaccinated is just totally unacceptable. I mean, we have been trying to avoid introducing any mandatory requirements for vaccinations but I want to signal here – if we have to do it we will do so.
“It is going to be an inescapable fact that our people have no choice but to get vaccinated. They either do so voluntarily to protect lives and livelihoods or be forced to do so,” Browne told radio listeners.
He said that he was also disappointed that persons who are aspiring to become leaders in this country were aiding and abetting persons not to take the vaccine in a bid to make his Administration look bad.
“In other words, they feel if they undermine the process and the people will suffer for say, another six more months to a year, that will perhaps give them a better chance of forming the Government.
“But I ask the question, ‘If you were to form the Government …where are you going to get the money to run the country? How are you going to resolve the deep wounds that would have been inflicted by COVID?’. It is in no one’s interest to undermine the vaccination process.”
He said the effect of the recent decision by the United States to issue a level-four travel advisory for Antigua and Barbuda has already started to be felt, with students from an offshore medical school questioning the level of illness on the island.
“How our hotel workers are going to get back to work if we cannot reopen the country’s economy safely and where will we get money to survive? We do not have any stimulus to give them. We just don’t have the money,” Browne said.
He told radio listeners that refusals to get vaccinated are delaying herd immunity, insisting “we are putting an entire population at risk”.
“We have the weapon to deal with COVID and if these individuals refuse to avail themselves of the vaccines and allow a third wave to come and wipe out even more people than you have hospitalisations, and we can’t even recover the economy…then we have to blame these irresponsible persons.”
He said that during the second wave of the pandemic as many as 28 people had died as a result, plus some others whose deaths were not yet classified as having succumbed to the virus.
Antigua and Barbuda has set a target of 70 per cent of its population to be vaccinated in order to get herd immunity and Browne said during the vaccination exercise last week, just over 100 people took advantage of the programme.
“What they do not recognise is that the very job they may save is their own job, especially those in the hotel sector. Why do you think that tourists are going to come here to go to hotels where people are not vaccinated? It is common sense,” he said, adding that locals would also be reluctant to go to bars and other places where staff members are not vaccinated.
Antigua and Barbuda has recorded 1, 232 cases of the virus with 32 deaths since last March. There have been 1,014 recoveries.