Mandatory vaccination

An individual receiving vaccine
An individual receiving vaccine (Photo credit: National Cancer Institute)

Prime Minister Andrew Holness expects that by November Jamaica will reach its target of one million vaccinated Jamaicans. During recent tours of the island, Holness referred to mandatory vaccination and soon enough it will be inevitable. Before doing so, Holness wants to make sure that people are fully informed, not leaving out the fact that abiding by the restrictions and being vaccinated will enable freedom and face-to-face learning.

The argument for whether or not vaccination should be mandatory is a legal issue. It is understood that traditional vaccines prevent us from catching certain viruses while the COVID-19 vaccine prevents us from becoming critically ill if we do contract the virus after taking the vaccine.

Dr Delroy Beckford, attorney-at-law, said, ”‘there is not a blueprint for the court to say whether mandatory vaccination is for or against an individual’s rights.” In this case both the state and the private parties have an equal chance of winning if taken to court.

“There are legal issues involved in the COVID-19 vaccine becoming mandatory”, said Beckford, “we are dealing with rights that involve freedom of thoughts and conscience and religious objections”. Beckford states that the state has a right to put measures in place to deal with public emergencies, in this case, COVID-19. These measures have to be justified in a free and democratic society.

In the case of National Commercial Bank (NCB) requiring their employees to be vaccinated, the workers can challenge the decision of the employers in a constitutional court, as private parties are now subject to a constitutional claim. The state used to be subjected to constitutional claim, but now private parties are allowed to argue before the court that the measures in place are in breach of their constitutional rights.

An NCB employee told the Jamaica Monitor that they had planned to take the vaccine on the weekend. The employee was planning to take it sooner now that the company has stipulated it, “I don’t want to be fired; it is hard to get a job in these times.”

Beckford said if a company required workers to be vaccinated or face dismissal, it could amount to unfair dismissal and the labour laws can come into play. However, it is not a surety that the private party will win as this issue is new to Jamaica and there are no cases in court relating to this matter. Beckford said the matter is still a debate.

Primrose Thomas, who is self-employed, thinks the government should not make the COVID-19 vaccination mandatory. Thomas says she needs more time to make a decision, “I need more details about this vaccine, I feel like the government is hiding something”. Thomas says she will only take it if she is left with no choice.

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