‘You have to get tough sometimes’
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President Dr. Irfaan Ali
President Dr. Irfaan Ali

–President says about possibility of stricter measures against unvaccinated persons
–reaffirms that all avenues being explored for sourcing of vaccines

PROTECTING the lives of every Guyanese, no matter the cost, remains the mandate of the Government of Guyana in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, President Dr. Irfaan Ali said while exuding the same tenacity when speaking about the possibility of stricter measures against unvaccinated persons.
“… this is a pandemic; this is not a joke, and you have to get tough sometimes,” President Ali said in response to questions from the media on the side-lines of an event at State House on Thursday. With over 21,733 infections, and more than 515 deaths since the detection of COVID-19 here in March last year, the government has intensified efforts to immunise persons against the deadly malady.

A nurse at the National Infectious Diseases Hospital at Liliendaal, Greater Georgetown, preparing to administer a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to a local healthcare worker

Based on the latest information from the Ministry of Health, some 244,365 persons, or 50.2 per cent of the country’s adult population, have taken the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 129,361 persons, or 26.6 per cent of the adult population, have been fully vaccinated.
The overarching goal of the government’s intense vaccination drive is to immunise enough persons so that the country could achieve herd immunity, and practically overcome the pandemic. But with there still being a long way to go, President Ali believes that measures instituted to combat the disease need to be balanced so that no one is placed at risk.
To further emphasise his point, the Head of State said: “If my friend here has the vaccine, and I understand different people have different positions, but if my friend took this vaccine to protect himself and his family, and Nazima [hypothetically speaking] decides she is not taking a vaccine, what gives her the right to put my friend at risk?”
He went on to say: “So, whatever measure we bring in place has to be a measure that balances that equation, so that the responsible act he [the hypothetical friend] made by taking the vaccine is not subjected to the Nazima’s irresponsibility.”

On the topic of stricter measures against unvaccinated persons, the Private Sector Commission (PSC) has already recommended that its member companies stipulate that their employees who refuse to be vaccinated provide evidence of a “medically-current COVID-19 negative test” from infection before reporting to work.
Further, the PSC has urged that the government makes it mandatory for all medical and security personnel in frontline contact with other persons to either be vaccinated or provide evidence of a medically-current COVID-19 negative test.
“… and that all places providing hospitality and entertainment services, including restaurants, require evidence of either vaccination or a medically-current COVID-19 negative test from its customers in order for them to receive service,” the PSC advised.

Referring to the proposals from the PSC, President Ali said: “At some point, in order to protect the people, you may see us raise the level for social places like restaurants from 40 per cent to 60 per cent, but we add another tier and say that in order to be in there, you have to be vaccinated.
“So, if you want to go to Palm Court, you want to go to the movies, you want to go to these places, then you have to be vaccinated. If you are not vaccinated, then you will have to wait a bit.”
The measures being considered are not unique to Guyana, as the global private sector is also keen on employing stricter measures against unvaccinated persons.
In some cases, international businesses have made it mandatory for unvaccinated persons, at their own cost, to produce a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

FIND A BALANCE
“So, these are all different models that the world is looking at in grappling with a situation, but we have to find the balance,” President Ali related.
Locally, while mandatory vaccination is still being contemplated on a national level, the Chief-of-Staff of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), Brigadier Godfrey Bess and President Ali defended a decision to order the compulsory vaccination of soldiers.
Speaking on the side-lines of the same forum on Thursday, Brigadier Bess said: “We have a responsibility to ensure that our soldiers are fit to defend this country at all costs. There is a saying in GDF and our soldiers know that once you join the Guyana Defence Force, it is service first. Our bodies belong to the State of Guyana.”
Since the order was issued, 70 per cent of the soldiers and 100 per cent of several units have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

As it is now, three COVID-19 vaccines are available to Guyanese, and those are: Oxford-AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, and Sputnik V.
In responding to a question on the price attached to the Sputnik V vaccine sourced through the United Arab Emirates (UAE), President Ali said: “My only focus, and the focus of the government, is the protection of the lives of the people of Guyana. And I’ve made it clear from Day One, that I’m going after the vaccines; that we are going after the vaccines. There is no price when it comes to the life of the people of this country; we tried every single source.
“We tried every single manufacturer; we tried every single embassy, ambassador, country, state, to get the vaccine. And the only thing that matters to me is that we were able to get it. And I know, I know that it has helped us tremendously in the fight against COVID-19.”
The President further affirmed that despite the challenges, every effort is being made to source vaccines.
“Some came in last week… we’re hoping very soon another set will be coming, and then it will be coming in batches after that,” the Head of State related.

YOUNGER GENERATION
Specific to the younger generation, President Ali reiterated that once Guyana gets the Pfizer vaccine, it will be going to children.
In May, U.S. President Joe Biden announced that he will share 80 million vaccines with the rest of the world.  Last month, he disclosed that of the first 25 million tranches of doses to be sent overseas, seven million of those will go to Latin America and the Caribbean.
The White House had stated that the initial 25 million doses will be shipped from existing federal stockpiles of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines.
A research from a 2000-plus sample size in 2020 had shown that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 100 per cent effective in preventing the COVID-19 virus in children ages 12 through 15.
In late 2020, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowed emergency use of the vaccine from age 16.  This year, the vaccine was given to children in the US from ages 12 to 15.
Should Guyana receive those vaccines soon, it would be a major boost, especially in the country’s efforts to reopen schools and reignite the education system.
“The medium to long term impact of COVID-19 will be felt after you have an assessment of the impact on the education system. Many countries are already getting frightening reports in terms of the impact. “I’ve been travelling around this country. And I know I’ve seen children who ought to have been in school, they’re out of the system. So, we have to get back to school,” President Ali related.
To this end, the President said that teachers and parents need to be vaccinated so that the conditions could be created for the physical return to school.

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