Lawyer suggests laws could force vaccination compliance

Michelle Thomas, attorney-at-law in Jamaica, is recommending that the government of Antigua and Barbuda, consider enacting laws to strengthen vaccination compliance.

Thomas suggested on OBSERVER Radio yesterday that the twin island state should take a similar path as Jamaica where that country’s Public Health Act of 1974 was amended in 2013. According to the Act, charges not exceeding JMD $1 million or imprisonment not exceeding 12 months may apply to parents, health workers, and principals or operators of schools, for each child not adequately vaccinated.

“I think Antigua and Barbuda should follow suit. The legislators who are amending these acts, have to ensure that the penalties are just as high to ensure compliance. However, the sum of a million should be less,’ she said.

According to her, Jamaica now enjoys a high compliance rate for vaccination, as submission of immunisation cards is a must for admission to public and private schools.

“The alternative of vaccinate or pay a million dollars or spend time in prison, is very high, so, there is greater compliance. No matter if you are a Rastafarian, Hindu or a Christian everybody has to comply”, said the lawyer.

Thomas further stated that the only challenge the government of Jamaica faced with vaccination compliance was enforcing legislation in cases where children are home-schooled. That is a small number, she, however, noted.

Local Rastafarians are among those who oppose having their children vaccinated. They contend that being forced to be vaccinated is an infringement on their religious rights as a community.

Thomas suggested that compromise could be reached through extensive public education campaigns and meetings with the groups at which there are presentations by doctors and other professionals.
“Until these groups see the reality, that their child’s health is paramount, they will not yield to this programme. I know the Rastafarians in Jamaica are just as religious as anywhere, but they understand that sometimes, the government have to enact laws for the good governance of the people,” said Thomas.

“Their beliefs and rights have to be respected, but they must understand that religious rights have to be balanced against the health of their children.”

She said it is of great necessity that there is high vaccination compliance because children who are not vaccinated are exposed to a number of communicable diseases that can affect their growth and burden the health care system.

Coralita Joseph, former superintendent of public health nursing, agreed with Thomas stating that there should be more stringent measures to ensure everyone is vaccinated.

“We have always talked about putting in a law that covers all of the vaccines and all of the people who are supposed to get vaccine,” she said.

Joseph said the health department currently uses the education law, which makes it mandatory that no child is admitted to school without being vaccinated. She said, however, that law is not being enforced and children, who have not been vaccinated are still being admitted to private and public schools.

“We are doing the greatest good for the greatest number and the government should make sure they take that up and support the vaccination programme right up to that point … and that law should cover the entire nation.” (The Daily Observer)

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