Addressing concerns that the government’s new vaccination requirements are seen as coercive or forceful, Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony contends that some people may have to give up their rights in order to protect the population.
He said this on Thursday while responding to questions from reporters at the St. Stanislaus College in Georgetown.
Earlier in the day, unvaccinated workers of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) were prevented from entering the facility because they also did not have a negative PCR COVID-19 test result.
As per the Gazetted COVID-19 Emergency Measures (No. 20), which took effect from August 1, 2021, unvaccinated individuals are required to make an appointment before accessing government buildings; this extends to employees.
Unvaccinated employees are also being asked to submit the results of a PCR COVID-19 test- which must be done at an approved private medical facility and costs about $20,000 at least every week to verify that they are not infected with the coronavirus.
Many people, including both vaccinated and unvaccinated workers, have protested these measures stating that they appear to be coercive. But, Dr. Anthony says that no one is being forced to take a vaccine.
“If you don’t want to get vaccinated that’s fine, then the next option is to get tested,” he said.
He did not address the financial burden of getting the intermittent PCR tests. He, however, said that the constitution addresses the right to life and reasoned that vaccines are a life-saving medical intervention.
According to Section 40(1) of the Constitution of Guyana, “Every person in Guyana is entitled to the basic right to a happy, creative and productive life, free from hunger, ignorance and want….”
Section 149J (1) also speaks to every person’s right to an environment that is not harmful to his or her health or well-being. Still, there have been some people who contend that the government’s action may be illegal and may infringe on people’s rights.
To this end, the Health Minister reasoned that in a pandemic, such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, individual rights may have to “yield to the collective”. The collective he referred to is the population at large.
“… because for the collective to be protected, we have to give up some of our individual rights… and that’s the only way you can reach herd immunity,” he said.
Herd immunity is a form of indirection protection from an infectious disease when a substantial percentage of the population has become immune to the infection.
When asked pointedly if he believes the vaccination requirements put in place are legal, the Health Minister answered: “I think so, I think it is legal.”
He also lamented that there should be no opposition to widespread vaccination since the COVID-19 vaccines help to reduce hospitalisations and deaths.