Antigua rejects online school for unvaccinated children

Protestors say that the government’s vaccination mandate is reminiscent of slavery.

Protesters in Antigua

“Education not vaccination…the people have the power!” This was the clarion cry as approximately 200 people gathered outside the Ministry of Education headquarters last Tuesday to protest what they described as discrimination against unvaccinated children.

One woman said that she did her part to help the government reach its goal for herd immunity. She got vaccinated hoping her 13-year-old son wouldn’t have to.

“At one time I had to go for maintenance for them (her children) and they were saying if you don’t vaccinate you can’t get maintenance. So I sit down and I thought about it and I said okay, I have to do it for my children. So I did it for my children and I believe I already protect my child.”

Her stance was endorsed by other protesters who said the government’s vaccination mandate is reminiscent of slavery.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Daryll Matthew said despite the views expressed by protesters, there has been wide acceptance of the government’s policy. He said approximately 6000 of the 8000 students have already been vaccinated.

“It is not a policy that is put in place to disenfranchise anyone, we’re simply trying to protect health and lives and livelihoods and so we understand that there are some persons who disagree with the policy itself and those persons exercise their democratic right to protest,” he said.

Minister Matthew went on to announce that the government cannot facilitate online learning for unvaccinated students. He explained that there aren’t enough teachers or resources available.

“It’s the same set of teachers. It’s not a different set of teachers who teach face-to-face or teach remote learning. It’s the same teachers who would have to be doing both and it’s just not possible,” he said.

Tuesday’s demonstration was organised by Franz DeFreitas, the City South candidate for the United Progressive Party (UPP). He hinted that protest action will continue specifically against the school vaccine mandate and the treatment of senior citizens since the onset of the pandemic.