Photo: Loop News Barbados

Jamaica Observer: KINGSTON – People working in the public sector who refuse to be vaccinated after vaccines are more widely available will have to pick up the tab for their own health care if they become ill with the coronavirus disease. Prime Minister Andrew Holness outlined the policy as he addressed the nation (Thursday, August 19) about new measures, chiefly seven days of lockdown which the Government hopes will help to curtail the spread of the disease.

“We have not yet discussed a policy of requiring public sector workers to be tested in order to turn up to work. What I know we have started to do, is to organise the various ministries, departments and agencies, and statutory bodies to receive vaccines, so I know the Ministry of Health is coordinating with the permanent secretaries and heads of agencies to carry out a vaccination programme within the public sector,” said Holness in response to questions on the matter.

The question was prompted by private sector organisations sending memos to staff, requiring them to get vaccinated or take a COVID-19 test at regular intervals to prove they remain COVID-19 free. The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, early last week, sent out a statement calling on the Government to get tough on people who refuse to get vaccinated. The lobby group also said as soon as Jamaica secures adequate vaccines, people, who still refuse to take it, must subject themselves to regular testing so their status can be known.

Holness did not directly address the policy being taken in the private sector, but he told public sector workers, “Once vaccines become widespread and widely available, then the cost of not being vaccinated should not be borne by the state.” He did not clarify what costs he was talking about.

“Yes, at this time vaccines are not widely available and [are] not widespread, so the state can’t really impose fully the cost on citizens, because it’s not widely available yet. But once it becomes widely available and widely accessible, then the cost of not being vaccinated should not be borne by the state. I want that to seep in, I know there are many questions that are going to come from that, but that is the Government’s policy,” he continued.

“So, for example, if the employer is to say, well, if you are not vaccinated, for you to come into my workplace, you have to show that you are not going to infect the rest of my staff and derail my operation, so you have to show a test, you rightfully should not ask the employer to pay for that, if vaccines are available, if you have the option of getting vaccinated. Because technically, what would happen is the Government would be paying you not to get vaccinated. There are some tough decisions that we have to make and you are not going to have everything the way you like it, but we have to look at what is in the best interest (of everyone) overall.”

Jamaica has set aside $5 billion to purchase vaccines with the aim of inoculating over 60 per cent of the population. Approximately 137 thousand Jamaicans or about five per cent of the population are fully vaccinated. Another 282 thousand people have received a single dose and are awaiting the second dose. Just under 200,000 of the AstraZeneca vaccines which arrived in late July are still to be administered. More vaccines are expected to be available as of next month.