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Mandatory vaccine for health workers would be ‘ethical stretch’

Former Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said yesterday that it would be “an ethical stretch” to make the COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for healthcare workers.

“We’re still in emergency use authorization mode as opposed to approval,” Sands told The Nassau Guardian.

“So, it’s still, I think, an ethical stretch to mandate that somebody get a treatment or a vaccination, which is still not yet approved. Emergency use authorization and 3.8 billion doses is a pretty compelling argument about general use and general safety.

“I think we now have a pretty extensive track record. We can look at the vaccine adverse effect registry and see that the number of vaccine-related deaths is extremely low when compared to the number of vaccinations. When I say extremely, I mean really, really rare.”

He said the issue of mandatory vaccination, especially among healthcare workers, is a “topical” one, globally.

“We’re watching various countries adopt a pretty aggressive stance or posture towards insisting that healthcare workers, in particular, be vaccinated,” Sands said.

“I don’t think we’re at that point yet in The Bahamas. While I can understand the basis of that movement, I think you need to have a few things in place first. One is that you have access to robust information, education. Two is that you have options for people. So, if people are afraid of a particular vaccine, then they have an alternative that is better suited to their particular health demographic.”

Sands noted that in some countries, young people are given Pfizer or Moderna rather than AstraZeneca, which has a rare side effect of blood clots.

He said it will likely be “a totally easy sell” to make the vaccine mandatory once information surrounding the vaccine is properly relaid to the public and options are given.

Sands said there is a combination of fear, vaccine hesitancy, and “flat out anti-vaccination disinformation movements”.

“Back to your question: where should we stand on the mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers? Knowing what I know about Bahamian healthcare workers, I don’t think you’re going to get very far,” he said.

“We had this discussion about the flu vaccine. As you know, the flu vaccine is not a mandatory vaccination in The Bahamas although it is in other places for healthcare workers. Hepatitis B vaccination is mandatory in many countries for healthcare workers. It’s not mandatory in The Bahamas.

“So, it’s an important conversation. I think that it should be a dispassionate, open conversation to allow the issues to be ventilated and maybe eventually we will get there. But I don’t think we’re going to get there anytime soon.” 

France recently made vaccination against COVID mandatory for healthcare workers.

Medical groups, which represent doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare workers, yesterday, called for mandatory vaccinations of personnel in the United States.

The vaccine is not mandatory in The Bahamas. 

On Friday, when asked about the vaccination rate among healthcare workers, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pearl McMillan said, “We recognize the need for that grouping to be on board with vaccinations and in our discussions, I would say deliberations in the health EOC (emergency operations center), a recommendation would have been put forward for consideration of mandatory vaccinations of healthcare workers because of the significance of that group.

“… We have to work closely with the health provider grouping to understand their concerns and also to understand even if they have a concern with being vaccinated…”

As of July 24, 103,164 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in The Bahamas. 

Sixty thousand five hundred and seventy-eight people have received one dose of the vaccine and 43,943 people, including those who got it abroad, received both doses. 

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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