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COVID 19 vaccines
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By On-Foot Observer

“When a strong arm resorts to sleight of hand, you know the will is unbending” — On-Foot Observer

This article is based on the press release from the prime minister concerning the “Objective of the public health (Amendment) Bill 2021,” and it may include excerpts from the release, as necessary.

In the same way that you can take more than one route to get to a desired destination, so, too, can different words be used to say the same thing. The press release informs that the Public Health (Amendment) bill 2021 is scheduled to be debated, and passed tomorrow (Thursday). The release states that its purpose is “to put the record straight” about the bill “given the extent of misrepresentation, and misinformation” that have been peddled about it. It goes on to emphasise that “the bill does not make mandatory or compulsory the vaccination or testing of persons in respect to COVID-19”. It also assures that it “does not involve any legal penalty or punishment on anyone who fails and/or refuses to take the vaccine or test for COVID-19”.

However, what the press release claims is that the bill intends “to make rules under the Public Health Act to require certain categories of employees in the public sector (central government and state enterprises) to take the vaccine in order to work in certain specified “frontline” jobs”. It promises that “the choice of working or not working in particular job which requires vaccination in the interest of public health will be that of the employee”.

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However, it evades some immediate scrutiny by stating that “the relevant rules under the Public Health Act will be made and published in due course in the Official Gazette”.

The release notifies that the bill to be passed on Thursday “will amend Sections 2, 27B and 43B (2) (a) of the Public Health Act…” The reason provided for these new amendments are to make a change to another amendment that had already been made to the act as recently as last year 2020. The one that had been made in 2020 was called the Public Health (Amendment) Act 2020, and the part of it that is scheduled to be changed by the new bill is (43B (2) (a)), which states that “where a public health emergency is declared, the minister can, on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer, implement special measures to mitigate or remedy the emergency. One of those measures includes establishing a voluntary immunisation programme for St. Vincent and the Grenadines…”

The aim is to do away with the voluntary aspect of the 2020 amendment, which is why the press release states that the bill will “…amend Section 43B (2) (a) of the act by removing the word ‘voluntary’ that appears before “immunisation”. It, therefore, basically aims to undo the part of the amendment that specifies that any vaccination programme would have to be voluntary, and instead to pinpoint a category of public servants (presumably those on the frontline) who will be required to take the vaccine in order to continue working in those posts. It then justifies this intention by declaring that the original Public Health Act of 1977 “already contemplates that the Minister can impose mandatory vaccination in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to prevent, control or suppress a communicable disease”. And, if that did not make it clear enough, it even reminds that “this power to impose mandatory vaccination is prescribed by Section 37 (d) of the Public Health Act…”

The new amendment may not seem so harmful at first glance. Yet, it is really meant to eliminate the privilege of choice for some public servants where vaccination is concerned. It aims for this while providing a sense of security by implying that vaccination will only be required of—in other words, mandatory for—a small section of public servants, and that they would have the option of choosing not to work in the vaccine-required posts. The promised option to work in a non-vaccination post, should you be unvaccinated, merely offers the illusion of choice.

It is an illusion, why?

What defines a frontline worker?

Isn’t a frontline worker anyone who interacts with the public on a daily basis? Nurses, doctors, police, teachers, port workers, customs workers and clerks of ministries and department offices for example, can all be classified as frontline workers, if you think about it.

How, and who would determine which of these public servants are frontline workers?

Even if the bill only classifies some of them as frontline workers, have you considered how difficult it may be to get a transfer to one of the non-vaccination posts?

With the general vaccine hesitancy that we see all around, do you imagine that there will be a lot of these non-vaccination posts available to accommodate all of the unvaccinated public servants? There is bound to be a scarcity.

The next thing to consider is that, even though it turns out that there are a lot of these non-vaccination posts, what if the people who are already holding them are reluctant to vaccinate and thus, will be unwilling to switch with you?

What if they are vaccinated, and yet unwilling to switch with you?

What if the fact that you are a trained frontline worker (such as a nurse for instance) makes it almost impossible for you to be transferred into a non-vaccination post?

The part of the amendment that says that there will be no penalty or punishment for those who refuse to vaccinate or test was intended to make it appear as though it is not forceful in nature. However, the force may operate in an unseen manner, for it was once said that if one remains unvaccinated, he can’t come to work, and if he doesn’t come to work he cannot expect to get paid. These sneaking technicalities are designed to disarm the retaliation that any direct proposal for mandating vaccinations is bound to meet, while making the unsuspecting public servant more accepting of same.

It is the same proposal for mandatory vaccination that was supposedly leaked—just with a re-packaged approached, that is outwardly less threatening in its wording. In fact, it is likely that the “leak” of the first, more forceful one was actually necessary to increase the likelihood that this one will be passed on Thursday. It all resembles a particular strategy of persuasion used in psychology, called the “Door-in-the-Face” technique. It works in this way: first, you make an unreasonable or harsh request, even though you know that it will be rejected. Then, you follow it up with the actual request, which is naturally less unreasonable. In this way, the originally intended request would now seem far less demanding or harsh, and thus more agreeable. The technique makes people more willing to comply with your requests. Can you see it working here?

The bill will effectively make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory, because Vincentians have already been quelled by what appears to be a softer option, which seemingly grants them a choice in the matter. At their cores, the difference between the supposedly “leaked” amendment bill and the Public Health (Amendment) 2021 is ever so slight—it’s almost merely a matter of pronunciation: like saying tom-ah-to instead of tom-aye-to, or more precisely, saying man-dah-tory instead of man-daye-tory. It would seem that some of the strong arm’s most impressive feats are owed heavily to its sleight of hand tricks.

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