Tourism Minister under fire for ‘vaccine ultimatum’

By Demion McTair. Updated 10:09 p.m., Thursday, April 7, 2021, Atlantic Standard Time (GMT-4).

Kingstown, St. Vincent: Minister of Tourism, Carlos James, is under fire for comments he made on Thursday, that persons wishing to access government-operated emergency shelters must be vaccinated.

“This is not a drill and it is not voluntary,” Mr. James said in a Facebook Live from the northwestern town of Chateaubelair.

Chateaubelair is one of the areas in the Red Zones, from which people have been ordered to leave due to deteriorating conditions at the La Soufriere volcano.

“There is a pandemic that is taking place and we will be vaccinating persons once they enter a government-operated shelter. And I want that to be very clear to persons listening this LIVE as well,” Mr. James said.

But, some rights activists who have been critical of the government’s approach to Covid-19 vaccination have taken Mr. James and the government to task on social media.

Some activists have argued that the policy is being forced upon vulnerable people, some who have no where else to go but at government shelters and who may have reservations about the vaccine.

Some people have cited recent developments with the AstraZeneca as the basis for their reservations.

“Under-30s in the UK are to be offered an alternative Covid vaccine to the AstraZeneca jab due to the evidence linking it to rare blood clots,” the BBC reported on April 7.

Members of the government, however, including Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves have maintained that the vaccine is safe.

James is not the only politician who has come under fire for giving what some have considered a vaccine ultimatum.

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves came under fire earlier this week for saying that untested and unvaccinated teachers who show up for face-to-face classes that were scheduled for April 12, would-be asked to leave the compound.

Today, due to heightened activity at the volcano, the prime minister had to relax his policy as the reopening if face-to-face school had to be put off. Schools will be conducted online, he said.

THE VACCINATION VS. RIGHTS BATTLE

The only other option to the AstraZeneca is the Russian Sputnik vaccine, which is not popularly advertised.

The government maintains that it is trying to protect the country’s public health infrastructure by preventing deadly Covid-19 outbreaks at shelter.

The government is also arguing that if persons have to leave the country to temporarily live in neighbouring territories, they would need to be vaccinated.

There has been no official word to that effect from any of the other countries promising to take Vincentians, if the volcano becomes explosive.

The countries are Grenada, St. Lucia, Dominica, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda and the British Virgin Islands.

While the government is aggressively promoting vaccination, rights activists are arguing that taking a vaccine is a personal choice and alternatives, for now, can be to continue to implement stringent Covid-19 protocols such as hand-washing, social distancing, and mask-wearing.

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