To vaccinate or not to vaccinate may no longer be a question for many workers, as companies and healthcare providers internationally move to mandate the COVID-19 jab.
The issue of mandatory vaccination remains a hot topic of debate within the community; however, the UK, France, Australia and other countries are making vaccinations mandatory.
Here in Cayman, some companies are already working to require vaccinations, and government has hinted at implementing mandatory inoculations for both first-time and renewal work-permit applications.
But a formal decision on that has yet to be announced by the Premier Wayne Panton-led administration.
Jabs for frontline health workers
The UK will be mandating care-home workers in England get COVID-19 vaccinations from October. This follows Australia’s decision in June to make “COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for high-risk aged-care workers and employees in quarantine hotels”, according to Reuters.
The Health Services Authority has confirmed that it requires COVID-19 vaccinations for new employees and those renewing contracts.
This policy, the HSA told the Cayman Compass, became effective 1 July 2021.
“Unvaccinated employees will be PCR tested every 2 weeks when borders reopen (Phase 3 September 9, 2021),” the HSA said in an emailed statement responding to Compass queries.
The HSA currently has an overall employee vaccination rate of over 80%, it added.
However, the healthcare provider did not provide a breakdown of the numbers by department.
“With a significant number of very small departments, disclosure of per department data has the potential to compromise staff members’ privacy, hence the HSA will only release the aggregate,” it said.
The HSA added, however, that as new staff are hired and contracts renewed under the requirement, its overall staff vaccination rate will increase as well.
Cayman Islands Tourism Association president Marc Langevin, in an interview on the Compass Facebook talk show ‘The Resh Hour’ on 21 July, said government may have to make some unpopular decisions, if it wants to hit the 80% vaccination target for the reopening of Cayman’s borders.
“We cannot just hope that we are going to trust people, or they are going to do the right thing. I think we are way beyond that,” Langevin said.
When it comes to government workers, there is no set policy for civil servants.
While vaccination remains a choice, Langevin said almost 90% of tourism workers have received the COVID vaccine.
Local entities look to vaccination policy
Local businessman A. L. Thompson has joined the push for vaccination.
He issued a memorandum to staff of his A. L. Thompson’s home store, making the case for vaccination.
Although he did not require his workers to get the jab, Thompson stressed the need to get vaccinated.
He told the Compass the letter was his way to get the message to staff.
“The letter to my staff did not mandate anything. It simply encouraged them to be vaccinated and for my company to know which staff member has or has not been vaccinated. We have a right to know,” he said in an emailed response to Compass queries.
He said his message was prompted, in part, by the confirmation of Cayman’s first cases of the highly contagious Delta variant on 22 July.
“As I stated in my letter, this pandemic is not over. We are now seeing a new strain that is more dangerous than the first COVID, now in Cayman. If we as employers and the government do not make hard decisions to change the attitude and mentality of people, our survival will be questionable,” he said.
Thompson said after his letter many of his staffers got vaccinated and others are working on getting theirs.
“Our only hope in fighting this virus is to get vaccinated. Those of us who have gotten the jab will stand a much better chance of survival than those who have not. This is proven to be an accurate fact, in that the new pandemic is among the unvaccinated. I want you to stop reading the nonsense on social media,” he said in the letter, referring to the spread of misinformation locally.
Thompson said his position is also finding favour among other businesses.
“I am hearing from several businesses who want to follow my lead,” he added.
The Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, told the Compass it intends to conduct a comprehensive survey to confirm the views of its membership on mandatory vaccinations including which organisations have implemented a vaccination policy of their own.
Chamber president Mike Gibbs, responding to Compass queries, said, “The Chamber has been playing its part to educate businesses on the benefits of vaccination and encourages the private sector to use its collective voice to do the same. The Chamber encourages all employees to get vaccinated if they can, especially those in customer interactive positions,”
He said the Chamber has received questions and concerns from businesses as it relates to “what they can lawfully do to address health and safety concerns.”
“To advise businesses on this matter, the Chamber intends to write to the Minister of Labour to have a discussion on suggestions for a possible way forward,” he added.
Gibbs pointed out that the International Labour Organization has issued guidance on this topic in April 2021 stating that “international labour standards do not directly address the question of mandatory vaccinations as a condition for work. Thus, the legal basis for such a measure would largely depend on the national regulatory framework.”
“However, a standards-based approach to the question should emphasize the principle of dialogue and consultations between employers and workers. For the area of occupational safety and health, which may also comprise protective measures such as vaccinations, Convention No. 155 and Convention No. 187 specifically require cooperation between management and workers at the enterprise level,” it stated.
While employers have a general obligation to ensure that workplaces are safe, the ILO said, ” consultations with workers on all aspects of occupational safety and health are an essential element for decision-making, and their cooperation is key for the implementation of workplace-related prevention measures. Social dialogue and consultations would also appear to be the best means to establish if vaccination might indeed be required for designated jobs, based on objective criteria.”
Proof of vaccination for events
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has implemented a policy requiring workers in city-run hospitals and health clinics to get vaccinated or be subjected to testing on a weekly basis.
California also requires all state employees and on-site public and private healthcare workers to be vaccinated or be tested weekly. On 26 July, the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to mandate that its “most patient-facing” employees get vaccinated, The New York Times reported.
Some countries are deploying different methods to increase vaccinations such as banning unvaccinated patrons at cinemas, concerts and other venues.
French President Emmanuel Macron, according to France 24 reports, mandated vaccinations for health workers who will have until 15 Sept. to get the jab. He also announced use of a health passport.
“The ‘health passport’ – a QR code or certificate proving that the holder has had a negative COVID-19 test, is fully vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID – will be required throughout different establishments in France from August, including bars, restaurants, cafés and shopping centres,” France 24 reported.
Greece also implemented a similar policy only allowing vaccinated customers to access indoor locations such as restaurants or cinemas.
Locally, the CayMAS carnival and Gay Pride Parade have both been granted approval to hold street parades with the stipulation that the participants be vaccinated.