Caribbean Community member nations Barbados and Guyana are considering mandatory vaccination for COVID-19.
Barbados is also giving consideration to the possibility of mandatory testing for the virus which has affected 196 million people across the globe and killed 4.19 million.
Barbados Attorney General Dale Marshall has been tasked with providing Government with a legal opinion on the criminal and civil liability associated with mandatory COVID-19 testing and vaccination.
Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley said that advice should be ready by early next month and would be followed by a series of consultations on the way forward.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday night after a meeting of the island’s social partnership — comprising the Government, employers’ representatives and trade union representatives — Mottley said she was hoping for a consensus among members of the tripartite body on the “difficult and challenging issue of COVID-19 vaccination and testing”.
“We have agreed that the attorney general will prepare or have prepared a legal opinion looking at both civil and criminal liability with respect to aspects of mandatory vaccinations and mandatory testing, or failure thereto, and the consequences of engaging in a way that may cause harm to others,” she said.
“We expect that that opinion will be made available to us on or before August 6, and that that would then trigger a process that would involve both sectoral and national consultations in the ensuing weeks.”
The consultations are expected to start within the Barbados Social Partnership and with sectoral discussions to be led by Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations Colin Jordan, and Minister of Home Affairs, Information and Public Affairs Wilfred Abrahams.
The national consultations, on the other hand, will be led by Minister of Education, Technological and Vocational Training Santia Bradshaw, along with Minister of Health and Wellness Jeffrey Bostic.
The national consultations will take the form of four zonal sessions and will be hybrid in nature, making use of face-to-face as well as virtual meetings.
In the meantime, Guyana’s Minister of Health Dr Frank Anthony says Government will take a decision on the matter of mandatory COVID-19 vaccination in due course.
He said the Government is paying close attention to the evolution of the virus in order to ensure it adequately adjusts its vaccination response, noting that with the fast-spreading Delta variant several governments around the world have moved to mandatory vaccination.
Several private sector companies in Guyana have instituted mandatory vaccination within their organisations, and Dr Anthony said Government is keeping a close watch even as it explores other strategies to combat vaccine hesitancy.
“Here, there’s a lot of the private sector entities that would want to make their work environment safe and they’re taking those precautions, so they’re giving their employees the option that either you go get the vaccine or you have to be tested on a regular basis for them to verify that the person is not infected with COVID,” the health minister said during Wednesday’s COVID-19 update.
“That’s …one way of… encouraging a safe environment. We [the Government] are looking at what is evolving from an epidemiological point of view, and we will take all the necessary steps to ensure that people are protected.”
And the Barbados prime minister, elaborating on the need for consultations, said: “This is to allow us to give as many Barbadians, whether sectoral or nationally, the opportunity to be heard against the background of the legal opinion which is being received; and this will relate, as I said, to both mandatory vaccination as well as mandatory testing, and the legal opinion and views and perspective of all will be taken into account.
“We would love to reach consensus as a social partnership and as a country, and we pray and hope that we can still do so, but I have already indicated to the country that this Government has always held the perspective: consult, communicate, and where we can’t, we will not fail to govern. But we as Barbadians understand how we do things and typically, Barbadians respect and want that level of consultation with respect to these matters.”
Following the consultations, the members of the Barbados Social Partnership are expected to convene at the end of August and report to the nation on the matter.
Last Friday, Prime Minister Mottley told the nation that workers having to pay for their own COVID-19 tests may be the price they will have to pay for refusing the free vaccine being made available to them.
She said workers would not be forced to take the vaccine, but noted that employers may have to take precautions to ensure the work environment remains safe for all workers.
At Tuesday’s press conference she said members of the social partnership agreed that it is in their interest to strongly advocate for regular testing, as well as that vaccinations be taken by all Barbadians and all persons living here.
She said the group was satisfied that vaccinations reduce the level of sickness, the possibility of death and the incidence of transmission of the COVID-19 virus.
“And, therefore, without prejudice for our waiting for the opinion and doing the consultations on mandatory testing and mandatory vaccinations, we have all agreed that we will ramp up our own internal communication as well as our public education programme, recognising that we also still have to balance it with supply of vaccines, which we are still awaiting additional ones,” she said.
General secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union Senator Toni Moore said her organisation was all for the sensitisation of the public.
“From our standpoint, we regard that the best way that we are going to get cooperation by everybody is if people are fully educated and are aware of what the issues are and what is at stake, and that is something that we can’t take for granted.
“And it is for that reason in particular that we fully support a campaign or an initiative to pursue a sensitisation programme which does not present a shadow of force on people but it presents an opportunity for each citizen that is not fully aware of the issues, all the pros and cons surrounding what we are dealing with…. So, we are on board and we look forward to these discussions rolling out over the next few weeks,” she said.
Meanwhile, chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association Edward Clarke noted the association was committed to working with the Barbados Social Partnership over the next few weeks to come to a position “workable for all Barbadians”.