By Dr Denzil L Douglas
As a medical doctor, and indeed a former prime minister who provided political leadership of the PANCAP (Pan Caribbean Partnership) managing the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the region, I am deeply committed to effective public health policies and practices. I also know the critical importance of proper public health education and awareness initiatives that promote understanding and transparency, and encourage feedback to secure our people’s support to accept the government program.
Of equal priority, I have a passion for working with different stakeholders – NGOs, private sector, faith-based and community organizations, and opposition parties, to achieve the goal of excellence in prevention, testing, teaching, tracking and a clear Rollout Vaccination Plan. This is needed to encourage wellness, to boost immunity; to promote prevention and to reduce the spread of diseases.
Since last year, we have encouraged the Harris administration to collaborate with the opposition in the fight against COVID-19. Prime minister Harris has flatly refused when several doctors and I shared practical advice on how to use the Public Health Act, instead of a State of Emergency, to balance democratic rights and public health protocols for positive results.
Just last week Thursday, February 18, during the meeting of the National Assembly of our parliament, while calling on the government to provide a clear Vaccination Rollout Plan to be shared with our citizens, I was rudely interrupted and prevented from doing so.
Clearly the government was failing miserably to communicate its plan to the general public. On such a vital matter, where people must find creative solutions between preserving their lives and maintaining their livelihoods, prime minister Harris prefers to operate a secret society. He withholds critical information rather than functioning like a caring leader who is ultimately committed to the wellbeing of all.
Not only did I invite the government to disclose its Vaccination Rollout Plan, I sought clarification on the storage of the vaccines while the storage facilities were being prepared as reported by the prime minister.
Clarification on the efficacy of the Oxford AstraZenica Vaccine that the government had secured was also sought. Further, I requested information on behalf of thousands of residents and citizens, about the original source of the vaccines. It was absolutely necessary to have supporting scientific data, based on the many associated risks and adverse reactions related to age and pre-existing medical conditions.
The country still wants to know if this was the same vaccine type for which prime minister Harris “made a down payment of US$800,000 taken from the Treasury of SKN” in December 2020. Also, a number of questions are being asked: Were the Medical Association, the St Kitts and Nevis Nurses Associations, other frontline workers in the COVID-19 fight, the Workers Unions, etc invited?
It is important to get clarity on these issues because I am interacting with hundreds of people who are fearful and anxious about the safety of vaccination, and demand urgent but reliable answers.
Instead of providing the population with helpful answers, Dr Harris and his cronies acted in bad faith. They openly refused to cooperate. Up to late Saturday evening, I did not receive credible answers and clarification on the important information I was seeking.
In light of these circumstances, I refused to take the vaccine yesterday during the photo gallery parade, without knowing whether the entire population would be vaccinated and how soon. As a member of parliament and leader of the parliamentary opposition, my conscience would not permit me to secure myself at the expense of my people.
While I support vaccination as a public health good, I reject the politics of divisiveness that prime minister Harris is promoting, especially during these emotionally tough and economically difficult times.
I believe strongly in vaccine equity, and I want to make sure that the poor and the rich alike, old and young, the sick and the healthy have equal access to the best vaccines affordable to us.
Any government vaccination program must be fair and balanced. Dr Harris should know that information about the vaccination type and process must be honest, straightforward and scientifically sound!
This is not just good public health practice – it is the right and just approach to good governance. I will continue to encourage our people to adhere to all the healthcare protocols needed to stay safe, wise and positive. Rest assured that we shall defeat this pandemic with our peace of mind intact, and our faith strengthened and renewed. We strongly support vaccination but resist the divisive attitude and defects in the Harris administration Vaccination Rollout Plan.