— Dr Ramsammy warns that irresponsible statements could derail campaign against COVID-19
COGNIZANT of the worldwide issue of vaccine hesitancy, pessimistic statements issued by the Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Harmon, and other prominent individuals, pertaining to Guyana’s vaccination campaign could derail and hinder the country’s objective of vaccinating most of its adult population by this year-end, said Health Ministry Adviser, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy.
Dr Ramsammy, a former Health Minister, expressed these sentiments while appearing on Trinidad and Tobago’s CNC3 Television programme, the Morning Brew with Soyini Grey on Monday.
The Health Advisor reiterated that President, Dr. Irfaan Ali, had announced his goal of vaccinating every adult Guyanese earlier in the year and had committed that when vaccines are approved for lower age groups, those will be procured and administered.
“We are trying to get to about between 500,000 to 600,000 Guyanese that we want to vaccinate this year; we don’t want to wait for next year; every day we wait somebody is dying and that is not good enough for us,” he said.
Statements emanating from some prominent authorities had indicated that early on in its vaccination campaign, Guyana opted to use vaccines that were not authorised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which allowed the country to administer a larger volume of vaccines, placing it ahead of other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nations.
Dr Ramsammy explained that in light of a whisper campaign against vaccinations, not only in Guyana, but worldwide, and “in a world where there is vaccine hesitancy, where we are struggling to make sure that all of our people are vaccinated, such statements are like screaming fire in a crowded cinema.”
He highlighted that, in addition to the Opposition being silent early on during the vaccination campaign, which led to majority of its supporters not taking the vaccines that were available, it has now also jumped on the band-wagon to peddle statements counter-productive to Guyana’s vaccination objective.
The former Health Minister has since labelled these statements as “out of line” and “reckless” while addressing them. He maintained that though he has no “quarrel” with anyone, it is his job to address vaccine hesitancy where it exists and “this was not a helpful statement from either gentlemen.”
“I had no intention of picking a quarrel with anyone, but I have a responsibility to ensure that any impact of any statement of anyone would not have any negative consequence to the vaccination campaign in Guyana, that’s my concern,” he maintained.
Responding to the counter-productive rhetoric peddled, Dr Ramsammy emphasised that the Government undertook rigorous due diligence to ensure that the vaccines procured were proven effective in many countries before Guyana used them, and there is statistics to substantiate that the vaccines work.
He reminded that Guyana has one of the “oldest and most experienced” Food and Drug Regulatory Authorities in CARICOM, and affirmed that “all the rules were followed” when the decision was made to procure the best vaccines for Guyanese.
“By the time we took a decision to procure Sputnik V vaccines more than 50 countries had already registered and begun to use them, 10s of millions of people have already been vaccinated with this vaccine,” he said.
WASN’T A LIGHT DECISION
“When we took the decision we studied the clinical trial data and we have validation from the Lancet, one of the world’s most prestigious journals, so it wasn’t a light decision,” he added.
The Health Ministry’s advisor shared that as of Monday, Guyana would have vaccinated close to 50 per cent of its adult population with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and about 20 per cent of the adult population has received their second dose, making them fully vaccinated.
“Among the persons that are fully vaccinated not one person has been found to be positive for COVID-19, not one of them has had to be in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) obviously and obviously no one has died,” he said as he disclosed that of the 20 per cent of the adult population that is fully vaccinated, more than 50 per cent were administered the Russian-manufactured Sputnik V vaccine.
Pronouncing on impact of the statements made by the Opposition Leader and other persons, Dr Ramsammy explained that such unfortunate utterances distract the ministry and force same to undertake other types of activities to ensure the willingness of citizens to come forward and take their vaccine is not reduced.
“I believe people, because of the instant response to these things were able to see that our vaccines work and people saw the process; we didn’t just go and take the first vaccine that was offered to us. We did our work,” he said.
Dr Ramsammy made clear that Guyana is not in a race with any country to see who administers the most vaccines first, but the country is in a race against the deadly COVID-19 virus. He said that vaccinating the Guyanese population to protect against the virus is considered a “plus” for the government.
“We want to make sure that every country in the region and the world, because in this case if there’s one country that is not vaccinated against this virus we will have a variant of that virus that will then come back to haunt all of us, so until every adult citizen in the world is vaccinated we are all going to be in constant danger,” he said.
The former Health Minister highlighted that Guyana has always taken “bold decisions” to safeguard its citizen’s health. He reminded that in the late 1990s when the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was killing people across the region, Guyana took steps to source and manufacture medication to control the situation.