Public servants remain divided over whether they should be vaccinated or not with the Government’s mandatory deadline looming within the next two weeks. The choice they face is either getting vaccinated or staying home without a paycheck.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley last December said those public sector employees who are not vaccinated will not be allowed entry into the workplace and will be furloughed.
The vaccine divide has caused divisiveness in several workplaces with some making the choice to be vaccinated while others remain vehemently against it.
An employee of St Ann’s Hospital who got vaccinated and another one who has no intention to be vaccinated spoke to the Sunday Guardian about their divergent stance.
One nurse who preferred not to give his name who holds a senior position at the St Ann’s Hospital said he decided to get vaccinated in March last year.
He did it based on his profession and experience and he was convinced that getting vaccinated would protect lives.
“I was vaccinated around March last year with the AstraZeneca doses. I went with three other nurses, we did our research and we all agreed that this would protect our lives. I looked at all the data which was presented. I’m a nurse and I know about vaccines and it is part of our training.”
Despite taking the vaccine and encouraging others to do so to protect themselves and their families, he disagrees with the Government’s mandate to furlough public employees if they are not vaccinated.
“I don’t want them to force people to do something they don’t trust. The vaccines are still at an experimental stage. It would work for some and not for others. In my department, a lot of people have religious beliefs and they don’t want it. No matter what you do, you can’t convince these people to change their positions.”
He said the anti-vaxx stance is so strong among some of his colleagues that many are willing to leave their jobs and go back home rather than be vaccinated.
He believes that the Government has not been successful in getting more people vaccinated because some believe that the Government is being “too political” and not being professional enough in how it disseminates its information.
“In my department, for example, they believe that it is the Ministry of Health professionals who are supposed to be spearheading the vaccination effort and not the Minister of Health who is a politician. They think it is some conspiracy going on.”
Despite the threat of people going without salaries and maybe even leaving their jobs, he does not expect any rush to get vaccinated.
“Those who got vaccinated for whatever reason have already done so. The other part of the population, they are not rushing. If you look at the statistics, numbers are not going up. Even the lines that have been implemented for public officers are almost empty. It’s almost mid-January and nobody is rushing. In fact, you see the trade unions challenging the Government.”
He said he has taken the decision that he will not be asking his subordinates in his department if they are vaccinated, he will heave that to the Human Resource Management department.
He also spoke about potential problems in his department if large numbers stay away from the job because of the mandate.
“My concern is when people go home how we’ll run the department. We’re already short-staffed and can’t get the work done. If more people go home, then what happens next? It takes years to train a nurse, you can’t find a nurse on the street to get into this profession. Right now we can’t even get a vacation as we’re short-staffed.”
Anti-vaxx for religious reasons
Another nurse who asked not to be named who also works at the St Ann’s Hospital told the Sunday Guardian that he has no intention of getting vaccinated even if it means losing his job.
“My decision is based on a spiritual perspective because the Bible speaks about the end-time prophecy and the mark of the beast. I am not saying the vaccines are the mark of the beast but it has a really close resemblance. It is almost a system that they are attempting to roll off. I don’t think that the situation as it stands warrants drastic measures that the authorities are implementing.”
He argued that if the situation were really that extreme then the Government would not have to beg people or force them to be vaccinated, the public would be flocking to be vaccinated.
He added that people who have been fully vaccinated are still dying and that does not convince anti-vaxxers that they should be vaccinated.
“I look at the patterns with (name of vaccine called) and all the wards at the hospital that they inoculating with these vaccines, some of the wards the staff are negative but the patients have contracted the virus. There are also colleagues who took the (name of vaccine called) and they succumbed to the virus. They did not reach the stage of going to the ICU but all the same, they did contract the virus.”
He also gave his opinion on the Government’s policy of no vaccine, no pay for public sector employees. He called it a “lack of constitutionality.”
“As far as I know there is nothing in the constitution that allows that.” He said there is nothing that the Government can do that will convince him or other public sector employees like him to get vaccinated.
“Even if I have to fall outside the employment system. Even if the Government comes tomorrow and says those who are not vaccinated will go home, I still will not change my position. The issue of employment is trivial.”
However, he did say that there are some anti-vaxxers at St Ann’s Hospital who are afraid of losing their jobs and incomes and some of them reluctantly have been vaccinated.
Second Vice President of the Trinidad and Tobago Registered Nurses Association (TTRNA) Letitia Cox told the Sunday Guardian that nurses being furloughed would have a negative impact on the country’s healthcare system.
“The care that the citizens are supposed to receive would not be the care they would be getting if they had a full contingent of staff. Right now we are already short-staffed. Regardless of what the Health Minster said recently about more nurses coming in. We are very short-staffed so any reduction in the staff right now will not be good for society. The Government should rethink the approach that they have.”
She said that the Association is pro-vaccine but at the same time the Association is pro-choice and moral suasion and education specific to groups should have been done to convince people to be vaccinated.
Cox also said that it is not true that nurses are reluctant to be vaccinated as the healthcare workers are the group that is most vaccinated compared to other Government services.
She said that although they do not have the latest statistics for 2022, up to last November 65 per cent of the nursing and midwifery population and 75 per cent of health workers overall were vaccinated.