While the Minister of Health only recently stated that vaccination against COVID-19 is voluntary, Prime Minister Gaston Browne has said, outright, that it will become mandatory if more persons do not come forward to take the jab.
Since vaccinations recommenced in April, the number of residents lining up for inoculation has decreased drastically.
Accordingly, Browne says that mandatory vaccination will be imposed if the country is unable to meet its summer deadline for herd immunity.
“… I want to signal here that if we have to do it, we will do so,” Browne warned during his usual weekend radio outing.
“It is going to be an inescapable fact that people have no choice but to get vaccinated,” he said, claiming that this move is to protect lives and livelihoods and the well-being of the country.
“That is not a threat; that is just encouraging people to voluntarily get vaccinated,” Browne said.
The Prime Minister reported that there were nine COVID-19 hospitalizations at the time, with one being considered serious. With respect to the virus, he said, there are people taking actions that could destroy lives and livelihoods, whether innocently or deliberately.
Browne laid the blame for the public’s waning interest in vaccination – as is the norm – at the feet of his “political opponents,” whom he accused of undermining the process.
While Browne did not specifically name anyone, a United Progressive Party spokesman, Charlesworth Tabor, has pointed out that Political Leader Harold Lovell has publicly taken the jab – unlike the Prime Minister who reported that he was vaccinated privately.
Lovell and his colleagues have consistently encouraged residents to protect themselves and their families via vaccination and other health regulations.
Meanwhile, Browne says residents’ lack of interest is already causing negative fallout.
He claimed that America University of Antigua (AUA) students are threatening not to return here if the COVID-19 situation remains the same.
Browne, who is also the Minister of Finance, said the country cannot afford this kind of financial fallout, and so 70 percent of the 100,000 population must be inoculated.
“And if we do not get the herd immunity, perhaps within the next 60-90 days, there is going to be weeping and gnashing of teeth in this country,” Browne warned.
He insisted that persons must avail themselves of the vaccine, since “the economic and social scars are getting deeper and deeper every day, and this type of reluctance and hesitance to get vaccinated is just totally unacceptable.”
There has been widespread condemnation of the Prime Minister, with residents and members of the diaspora taking to social media to protest mandatory vaccination.
Many accused Browne of not respecting their rights to choose, while some reminded him of recent remarks he made, defending the sovreignty of his own body.
Accordingly, they threatened, in turn, to resist any efforts by the Government to impose inoculation, and to vote him out of office if he attempts to do so.
Over 30,000 residents, to date, have received the AstraZeneca vaccine, with the second dose expected to be administered sometime this month.
However, even among those who received the first jab, there is reluctance to continue. This is largely because of conflicting reports on the safety of the AstraZeneca drug and its withdrawal or pause by several other countries.