The two main unions representing public sector workers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) have urged their members to take a COVID-19 vaccine.
The Government of SVG has ramped up its COVID-19 vaccination drive and is hoping to vaccinate 50,000 persons over the next month, if enough jabs are available.
On Wednesday, the Public Service Union (PSU) urged its members to take the jab, while the SVG Teachers’ Union did so last week Friday.
Shelly-Ann Alexander-Ross, the PSU’s public relations officer, noted at a press conference that there have been eight COVID-19-related deaths in the country.
Further, since March 2020, SVG has confirmed 1,646 cases of COVID-19 and 684 cases remain active.
Alexander-Ross, who is a nurse, noted that no drug has been developed to actually cure or 100% prevent COVID-19.
“It brings me to a question of vaccination or the issue of vaccination,” she said, adding that the union knows that for decades vaccination has provided public health benefits in terms of preventing a lot of diseases, like the mumps and the polio.
“So, we have evidence of that. And we have not had any sort of normalcy, or the world generally, us in St. Vincent, the Caribbean and the world in terms of the life that we knew. We have to wear masks; we have to keep our distance; we can’t have activities.”
The union spokesperson noted that this has been the case since March 2020.
Alexander-Ross added that a number of organisations, such as the World Health Organisation, the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Pan-American Health Organisation have said that in order for the world to get back to a level of normalcy, there needs to be a significant level of community immunisation.
“How do we get to that place? So what was some research and what was discussed is that vaccination can be the method in terms of taking us from where we are to a level of normalcy.
“So it’s based on that and based on what is happening [that] we want to encourage persons to make an informed decision to be vaccinated. So we hope that persons basically would think about it, think about the situation that we’re in now and think about how we’re going to get to the place where we can all be together, that we don’t have to be wearing these masks all the time and so forth,” Alexander-Ross said.
And, a similar message came from the SVGTU at its press conference on Friday.
“I think the whole issue of vaccines is one where we are saying teachers must have their research done,” said Andrew John, the PSU’s industrial relations and research officer.
“Do your research and with the relevant research you can make a decision,” he said, adding that the top infectious disease professional in the United States was advising that persons take whatever vaccine is available.
“It is important in ensuring that you stay safe in this pandemic. So, I would let the president, who I think would be in a better position to state what is the union’s position on this. But, personally, I think I would advocate for it,” John said.
Meanwhile, Union President Oswald Robinson said that Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache had telephoned him and notified him that the vaccine was available.
“And they are willing and ready to facilitate teachers,” Robinson said, adding that he passed on the information to his executive and the union’s branch structures.
“And we said to our teachers, ‘Well, this is what is being offered; this is the opportunity to take the vaccine.’
“But we make it clear that it is not mandatory. Because, as a trade union, you have to respect people’s right to choose or not to choose,” Robinson said.
“So we encourage our teachers to take the vaccine because if the state has this national programme and you think that it is going to assist you, then you take it. If you have doubts about it, we say then when you are more confident, if you need a little bit more education on it, at that time you should seek the education and take whatever is available for your safety and your own health.”
Robinson further stated:
“We know that there is a diversity that exists among our members in terms of people’s cultural, religious, even political aspirations or affiliations or background. We cannot mandate or force our members to do something, which is, more or less, of a personal nature, because your health is your personal undertaking. So it has to do with your mind-set. If you are willing to take it, we will encourage you to take it. We can’t force you but we will encourage you. And that’s what we are doing, encouraging our teachers to take the vaccine.”