The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU) says that it gets the impression that the professional development session scheduled for this week, “is sort of a vaccination camp” for teachers.
The union said that while it is pro-choice on the COVID-19 vaccine, teachers would not be bullied, intimidated, or pressured into taking the jab.
And, at a press conference on Tuesday, the union lawyer pointed out to its members that there is no law compelling them to take a COVID-19 jab.
Face-to-face classes in SVG are yet to recommence since the Christmas vacation because of a spike in local cases of COVID-19, which has since subsided.
And, last Thursday, the Ministry of Education said that teachers are to attend school from today, Wednesday, to Friday.
“The period March 17-19, 2021 will be used for professional development purposes and consultation on the evolving protocols for the anticipated school term,” Permanent Secretary Myccle Burke said in a press statement.
Burke, however, said in the same press statement: “All teachers are encouraged to vaccinate in an effort to mitigate against the pandemic.”
The government of SVG is hoping to vaccinate 50,000 persons over the next few weeks, providing that it has enough doses of the jabs.
Increasingly, the government seems to be resorting to bullying tactics to get people to take the jabs, including saying that omnibuses would not be permitted to increase their ridership from the current half capacity, unless operators take the vaccine.
At a general meeting on Sunday, teachers mandated their union to ask the ministry to either have the training online or deferred to during the two-week Easter vacation, which begins on Monday.
The meeting also discussed the ministry’s efforts at vaccination, the union told the media at a Tuesday’s press conference.
“… asking our teachers to go back this week, I am suspecting that it is sort of a vaccination camp — more or less, a veiled attempt to have teachers there, put them on the spot, and I am hearing that health officials will be there with the hope that teachers would want to be vaccinated,” Andrew John the union’s industrial relations and research officer told the media.
John said that teachers, like the rest of the public, have been hearing about problems associated with the vaccine.
“We are not deaf. We are critical thinkers. And we have been hearing about some countries putting the same vaccine on suspension for a period of time because there are issues associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine. So, what are we to say — that that is a rumour?”
He said a Ministry of Health statement, on the weekend, about the suspension of the use of the vaccine in some countries in Europe was not conclusive in saying that there were no issues associated with the vaccine.
“So more or less, they are saying that you are taking a chance. They are advising us to take a chance on it,” John said, adding that the ministry should not be annoyed with teachers for being hesitant or wanting more information.
John encouraged teachers to continue to support their union.
“So I continue to advise teachers to follow what the union is advising; as you would see, we have demonstrated we have our legal counsel here with us and so we mean business… There is no need for teachers to panic.”
Teacher not opposed to vaccination
Vanrick Williams, the union’s acting first vice-president, said that there are teachers who have taken the vaccine and who are encouraging other teachers to do so.
“There are members who are waiting to take the jab. They are waiting, for example, for the Russian version. There are members who believe that the Russian version since it was taken by certain top ranking officials and people look up to these officials, they believe that the Russian version, the Sputnik-V, is a better version for them,” Williams said.
“I have personally spoken to teachers and I can quote that some have said to me. ‘I will take the one that the boss took’,” he said referring to the Sputnik-V.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves was among persons who received a jab from among the 20 doses of Sputnik-V that the country received through “an intermediary”.
Gonsalves took the jab in February after “prayerful consideration” saying that his instinct was not to take it for fear that he would have been accused of jumping the queue.
Williams said that some teachers, for religious reasons, do not want to take the vaccine.
“So it is not to say that teachers, in general, are refusing to take the vaccine,” he said.
“Teachers are human beings and some teachers are still doing their research and they will make up their mind.
“But, the issue at hand that our general membership wants us to echo, it deals with the way that the authorities are going about the vaccination process. The teachers feel intimidated; the teachers feel as though they are bullied, they teachers feel as though they are pressured into taking the vaccine.
“Slavery [was] abolished how many hundred years ago. And if you start to force people against their will to do certain things, they are going to feel as though it is a modern form of slavery.”
Williams said that union members are very much aware that the vaccine is not mandatory.
“But teachers are being proactive when it comes to this. They are looking at the trend and they believe that it will just be a matter of time before they are forced to do so. So they want the national executive to echo their sentiments, to let the authorities know that teachers will not be bullied, teachers will not be forced into doing things such as taking the vaccine or other things that they don’t want to do.”
He said that teachers are not only criticising but proposing suggestions.
Teachers, Williams said, are proposing that the ministry continues its education programme, but take a more balanced approach.
“Tell us why we should take it but also tell us why we should not take it,” he said, adding that teachers also have been seeing the articles about the negative effects of the vaccine.
“When we decide, we are going to take the vaccine. And notice I said ‘when’. But give teachers the choice. Do not just say it is not mandatory but bully and intimidate us.”
COVID-19 vaccine not mandatory
Meanwhile, Shirlan “Zita” Barnwell, the union’s legal counsel, noted that there are only eight mandatory vaccines in SVG and they do not include one for COVID-19.
“So if teachers wish to refuse to take the vaccine, they can do so and exercise that constitutional right and exercise of their conscience and freedom — freedom of conscience and belief. And, at the same time, that is not to say that those who want to take the vaccine should not take it… The actions of the teachers now are within the four walls of the law and no one is breaking the law here,” Barnwell said.
And Abdon Whyte, the union’s acting spokesperson, said that on the issue of vaccination, the union is pro-choice — a position it made public a few weeks ago.
There is a serious push to vaccinate.
“However, attitudes towards the vaccination effort are being counter-productive, like threatening teachers or threatening other sectors that if they don’t take the vaccine, they won’t be able to make a living, which would raise even more questions in persons’ minds as to what is really behind this. So, the PR effort, it is being counter-productive toward persons taking the vaccine,” Whyte said.