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To jab or not to jab: teachers weigh their options

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Posted: Thursday, July 8, 2021. 2:47 pm CST.

 By Aaron Humes: Even with the sector one of the most covered with 60 to 70 percent vaccinated, there remain concerns about what is in effect mandatory vaccination for teachers, according to President of the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU), Elena Smith.

Speaking after the Senate met on Wednesday, the Senator described the Government’s insistence on one hand that the vaccine is not mandatory, compared with their pronouncement that unless teachers and other frontline workers get vaccinated, they will have to repeatedly submit COVID-19 negative tests to continue work, is “back door tactics.”

Said Smith, “The issue that we have in terms of this pronouncement is that we have been saying that the vaccine is not mandatory. So, you determine as an individual whether you are going to be tested or not. And while the government is saying we are not mandating, what you put behind what you are saying comes across as you are making it mandatory. So, you are telling me that it is not mandatory, but if I don’t have it by this date, this is what I must be doing.”

She continued, “Considering the fact that you have cut my pay by ten percent, you are telling me that I have to go pay for a test every two weeks. You want to make it mandatory. Those are the concerns of not only our teachers, but I think our workers in general. Well, especially those that are listed as front-line workers. But, we do not see the Ministers listed as front line workers, and so I am not sure why they are not listed as frontline workers. But always, those are the concerns that our teacher has. How do you expect that I have a concern, a legitimate concern with regards to taking this, not because I don’t want to, but because I have a legitimate concern, you are now telling me that I am going through the back door to make it mandatory to take the vaccine?”

The Government has since clarified that holdout frontline workers will not need to pay for COVID-19 tests should those be needed in August.

Senator Smith added, “And, I know there is going to be the argument that we have rights, but if your rights infringe on other people’s right then we can do certain things. So, there is going to be the legal aspect of that. But that is the sentiments coming from our teachers.”

She personally, she says, has “not thought about” taking the vaccine “as yet.” Her hesitation is for her own reasons and, she points out, has not changed the calculus of how many union members have gotten vaccinated.

“As I said earlier, it is a personal choice. And, all of us have a reason, whether it is gear or health matters why we haven’t done so as yet. And, we have that choice to make. So, I do not see, I do not think that anybody can fault anybody who hasn’t done it as yet. It is just their choice.”

Smith is not presently teaching as she is on secondment to the BNTU office while serving as President.

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