— says Dr. Anthony, defends vaccine purchases
MINISTER of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony, has vehemently defended his government’s move to visit the country’s Contingency Fund for the purchase of some $1.3B worth of COVID-19 vaccines.
Dr. Anthony told the Committee of Supply on Thursday that, unlike many other Caribbean countries, Guyana did not rely solely on the COVAX facility for the life-saving vaccines.
He said that had Guyana not gone ahead to independently purchase the vaccines, then the country would not have managed to even vaccinate 10 per cent of its adult population. As it is, Dr. Anthony said that more than 44.3 per cent of the adults in Guyana have already received their first jab of the vaccines available locally – AstraZeneca, the Sputnik V from Russia, and China’s Sinopharm.
Between April and June 2021, the government went ahead to spend $957 million to procure 200,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine, and another$326 million for the supply of 100,000 doses of the Sinopharm; these were monies that were not budgeted for, but rather, taken from the Contingency Fund.
Questioned by members of the Opposition as to why the government did not include the purchases in its $383 billion budget for 2021, Dr. Anthony said that the vaccines were simply not available at the time.
Pressed further by Opposition Leader, Joseph Harmon for details as to why the Guyana government paid increased prices for the vaccines, Dr. Anthony said that the hike in prices is as a result of the well-established global shortages. “If it is not available, then we have to buy at the price that we are getting it at,” the Health Minister asserted.
He reminded that both Moderna and Pfizer had informed that they would not be able to supply Guyana with vaccines until 2022.
Outside of the independent purchases, Guyana stands to also benefit from the acquisition of some 148,000 doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccines, via an agreement brokered between the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the African Union.
Asked whether the vaccines have been approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Minister Anthony said that only Sputnik V is awaiting approval for the status of Emergency Use Listing. He assured however, that Guyana has moved to purchase and administer the Russian product based on its clinical merits, and efficacy. He said specifically that a real-life study has shown Sputnik V to have an efficacy rate of approximately 97 per cent.
NEW VARIANTS, ONE VOICE
Meanwhile, Opposition Member, Sherod Duncan asked whether the vaccine purchases were done in an effort to cater for new variants of the coronavirus; to this, Dr. Anthony reminded that Guyana does not yet have the capabilities to test for such mutations. He noted however, that an increase in infections and deaths could point to the presence of the B1 and B2 variants that have been detected in neighbouring Brazil.
Dr. Anthony said pointedly that the vaccines have been working, and that Guyana has not seen any cases where immunised persons have been hospitalised or have died.
Responding to the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC)’s Ganesh Mahipaul, Minister Anthony said that none of the purchased vaccines have expired.
He boasted that, so far, the administration has been able to respond adequately to the storage and transportation needs of the vaccines that have to be kept under specific temperatures. More specifically, he said that the government has built more than 15 regional storage hubs as a means of ensuring adequate availability of the vaccines all across the country, especially in rural and hinterland areas.
Minister Anthony also used the forum to appeal to all Members of Parliament to “Speak with one voice” as it relates to the national vaccination programme. As the lively discussions on the subject wrapped up, the Committee of Supply approved the purchase of the vaccines.