Some members of the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment have expressed concern that they could be “forced to take the Astrazeneca COVID-19 vaccine” athough they do not want to.
This has arisen due to a memo being circulated on social media platform WhatsApp.
The current batch of 33,600 vaccines being used by the Government was received through the Covax facility established by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO).
The vaccination drive commenced with healthcare workers and people over 60 years with non-communicable diseases.
However, having received a further 40,000 vaccines as a gift from the government of India, local health officials moved into the second phase on April 17.
This included frontline workers.
This is the bracket in which soldiers fall and efforts are being made for them to be vaccinated. But it is the apparent approach by the military that has some of its members concerned.
In a document titled, “Command Guidance for Administration of the Vaccination Process,” soldiers are reportedly given instructions on what is expected of them.
It said soldiers will be selected and directed to be vaccinated for COVID-19 and “Soldiers who refuse to take the vaccine will be placed on report.”
Guardian Media spoke with several soldiers who are not permitted to speak on the record, and one, in particular, explained that, “once a soldier is placed on report, he is being charged.”
He said once an officer is charged, the ramifications could range from being confined to barracks, being demoted or even being fired.
According to the ‘memo’, an officer who refuses vaccination will be “instructed to state their refusal in writing along with an explanation for the refusal.”
But the soldier told Guardian Media that, “a lot of officers are hesitant to take the vaccine right now.”
He cited local and international reports about blood clots and other complications from the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The officer said it is important to note that in their contracts, they are asked whether they are willing to be vaccinated or re-vaccinated, to which most soldiers say yes.
However, he is of the view that this particular clause cannot be used in this instance.
The concerns have now spread from within the Regiment to the wider Defence Force, as Coast Guard officers who spoke with Guardian Media said if the memo is true, it may only be a matter of time before similar orders spillover.
Guardian Media attempted to contact Chief of Defence Staff Air Commodore Darryl Daniel on several occasions but was unsuccessful.
A WhatsApp message was also sent to him, asking to verify or refute the contents of the document. The mesasage was read but there was still no response.
A phone call, followed by a WhatsApp message, were also sent to newly-minted National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds to get his thoughts on the matter, but those too were not replied to.
In February of this year, President of the Industrial Court Deborah Thomas-Felix said an employer cannot alter its terms and conditions and make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for employees.
“It cannot be that the whole world population is forced to take an injection, whether it is for the greater good or not for the greater good,” she said.