Central Kingstown MP, opposition lawmaker St. Clair Leacock is appealing to teachers to vaccinate against COVID-19.
“If we do not, at this time, lead by example, the COVID outcomes in St. Vincent will be catastrophic, many of our children will fall ill, schools will be further disrupted, it will no longer be a choice of whether we have virtual or blended or unblended, or divided or undivided, whether schools open in October or December or whenever it is. It will be simply that there will be no school. Businesses will come to the same realisation,” he said on NICE Radio on Thursday.
Leacock’s comments came as students in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) have not returned to the physical classroom since December 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Students were scheduled to return to the physical classroom this past Monday, but were forced to continue their education online because of a spike in cases, which has seen the country record 1,574 cases and 21 deaths since Sept. 9.
As of Thursday, there were 1,400 active cases of COVID-19 in the country.
Further, as of Tuesday, 34,386 doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in SVG. This represents 13,556 second doses and 20,830 first doses.
The government has moved to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for teachers, having deemed them frontline workers.
However, this is not sitting well with the nation’s educators, who voted at a meeting of their union to refrain from online teaching last Wednesday and next Monday and Friday.
“I am happy to say that for a person who has a business on the frontline, all of my workers have been agreed on their own that they must be vaccinated to do frontline work,” said Leacock, who operates a cleaning business.
“And this is a clear statement from me, St. Clair Leacock, asking our teachers to give further consideration to their position and vaccinate themselves and protect themselves and protect the nation’s children. St. Vincent deserves that. That is, in my mind, the best moral decision at this time,” he said on New Times, the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) daytime radio programme.
“Now, my position is one that may cause me votes, but so be it. I cannot be looking at St. Vincent’s outcome for what is best for Major, what is best for just a particular party in a whole exercise. It has to be what’s best for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. And as I listen to what has happened all around the world, vaccination is the way to go at this time,” said Leacock, who is also an NDP vice-president.
Leacock said he has been listening to the debate and had heard the contribution of Teachers’ Union president, Oswald Robinson.
“And he makes, quite correctly, the point that his membership had a virtual meeting and the majority of the members voted to take a particular course of protest action in response to the government attempting to mandate vaccination for teachers.”
Leacock further said that Robinson has rightfully said that when the membership of the union comes to a decision, he is mandated to follow it through.
“And that is also correct and correct up to a point. Because, … leaders, I contend, must always lead. And even when you are in an organisation and as democratic as it may be, and members give you an instruction, it is still, if you have a different perspective of the matter, to attempt to bring that perspective to bear on the decision that is before the membership. Not bulldozing them, not overruling them, but seeking an optimum consensus.
“In this matter of the effect of COVID on St. Vincent and the Grenadines, it is at one a private decision, certainly a private decision of all teachers, … but there is also a public purpose to that in teachers are also interfacing with your son, your daughter, my grandchildren who are in the classroom and that is a public exercise, that is a public good,” Leacock said.
He added that he taught at the St. Vincent Grammar School and was a part-time lecturer at the University of the West Indies and, therefore, has “an experience about teaching and how that fraternity feels.
“And wherever we are as leaders, we have to examine very, very carefully our legal responsibility in the decision we are making, we also have to consider as well in the legal decision the morality of that decision.
“I am of the considered view that at this time, and against the experience of the rise in the COVID situation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, because that’s empirical, the increased number of deaths, and the clear situation in which our hospitals are overwhelmed, I believe by now, that every Vincentian family has had a COVID experience that is not good.
“I believe that in that background that our teachers really have to see and make a decision beyond the personal and be willing to look at what is the public good.”
Leacock said that he fully supports the position of his party “that we are not going to go the route of mandating and making certain things mandatory.
“But I fully accept the argument and I trust here that I am not in disharmony with that position, and if it is so, well, regrettably, I have to stand by my conviction, that is, it cannot be in the best interest of St. Vincent and the Grenadines that you have a classroom of 30, 40, students, 15 — because some classes are small, some are large — that we may have in the classroom, interfacing with our teaching, our children people who are not vaccinated or who have not been tested to be negative.
“And it would, therefore, best serve the nation’s interest that the president — and he may well be doing this — work even harder to convince his teachers that they be vaccinated in their own self interest, in their families’ self interest, in the students’ self interest, and the nation’s self interest.”
Leacock said he was making his comments on his own behalf and “on the behalf of the request of people who believe I carry some authority in St. Vincent on certain public interest matters and that I should speak to the matter again”.
He noted that last year, when he warned that 2,000 people could die of COVID-19 in St. Vincent and the Grenadines if certain steps were not taken, he was ridiculed.
“People laughed at me, people said, ‘You are causing alarm’, and there was great consternation and so on and so forth.”
Leacock said that people have “reversed themselves” and are saying what he had said has come to pass.