A group of church ministers in Fiji have resigned because they do not want to be vaccinated against covid-19.
There has been growing pressure on the clergy to get the injections since the Fiji government’s “No jab, no job” policy for public servants was announced last June.
The Methodist Church said this week 11 of its pastors had tendered their resignations.
The church’s secretary, Reverend Wilfred Regunamada, said the ministers were not forced to resign but had done so of their own free will.
“And in between that deadline, the church continued to call and ask them if they had changed their decision,” he said.
“Those who have not changed and made their decision, the church in the various circuits or the divisions that they were in, farewelled them very well. ”
Reverend Regunamada said the church respected their decision and the vacant positions would be filled by other lay preachers and theology students within the church.
Methodist Church the largest
The Methodist Church is the largest Christian denomination in Fiji, with 36.2 percent of the total population (300,000) including 66.6 percent of indigenous Fijians.
In October last year, 10 ministers of the Christian Mission Fellowship Church quit over their refusal to be vaccinated.
At the time, Reverend Regunamada, then the Methodist Church’s secretary for communications and overseas mission, said they had not laid off any of their ministers nor had anyone been forced to resign.
“Currently, we are carrying out awareness for our ministers and they are being given time, until November, to get their vaccines.
“The church’s stand is mainly to ensure the safety of its members which means that its ministers, who are servants of the people, need to be vaccinated first.
“At the moment, those that have not been vaccinated have been requested not to partake in any church services but have been advised to stay in their own homes and they are still being paid,” Reverend Regunamada said.
Remaining 8 percent tough to vax, says ministry
Meanwhile, Fiji’s Health Ministry is finding it hard to vaccinate the remaining eight percent of the adult population against covid-19.
Health Secretary Dr James Fong said they continued to receive requests for vaccine exemption from people with medical comorbidities, particularly non communicable diseases (NCDs).
He said the medical condition of these people required vaccination “and granting the exemption is not an option for any qualified medical person”.
“We have noted how difficult it is to increase our vaccination coverage for the last 8 percent of our adult population, despite the increased risk of severe outcomes in this group,” Dr Fong said.
He said community support was needed to sustain the impact of their efforts.
“While we will continue to do our part to promote and deploy vaccines, we need community support to sustain the impact of our efforts especially to the vulnerable within this 10 percent.
“It is a grave concern that we continue to receive requests for vaccine exemption from persons with medical comorbidities, especially NCDs.”
Booster dose programme
As of February 14, 574,700 of Fiji’s adult population had been fully vaccinated, the Health Ministry stated.
The booster dose programme began at the end of November 2021. As of February 14, 91,414 individuals had received booster doses of the Moderna vaccine and 60 people got the Pfizer dose.
Dr Fong said for the month of February, 175,558 more people had become eligible for booster doses.
“We are targeting to cover all these eligible individuals in the days ahead. Please come forward to get your booster (third dose) vaccine if you are aged 18 or over and it has been at least 5 months since your second dose.”
Fiji has 141 active cases of covid-19 in isolation while the death toll is at 820.
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.