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In the letter columns of the papers, some concerns surrounding the vaccination campaign have been raised. The Ministry of Health would like to thank Ms. Ryhaan Shah for raising these concerns. The Ministry of Health would like to clear up some of these general concerns.
The Ministry of Health has started the vaccination campaign with more than 30 fixed-sites providing vaccines from 8.00am to 3.00pm. From next week, these fixed-sites will be supported by roving teams that will visit specific communities, utilizing our health centers or other appropriate sites for varying time periods. In addition, we have teams that are visiting homes of persons who are not ambulatory.
We admit that we have not been very aggressive in promoting the vaccine campaign. While we have received 100,000 doses of vaccines, we do not yet have in our possession all the vaccines we need to vaccinate between 600,000 and 700,000 persons with two doses each. We do expect 100,000 doses of Astra Zeneca vaccines from COVAX, but no confirmatory date has been given. We expect another 150,000 doses from an arrangement between CARICOM and the African Union, but confirmatory dates are not available at this time. Thus, we need to ensure that our campaign is not rolling ahead of availability. What we can assure everyone is that every Guyanese and everyone residing in Guyana will be vaccinated, as long as they want to be.
We are presently utilizing two different vaccines – Sinopharm and Astra Zeneca. But every person vaccinated will receive the same vaccine for both of their doses. The Ministry’s vaccination program is very clear – there will no mixing of vaccines.
For this reason the Ministry has introduced a vaccination card (certificate) that records the type of vaccine used and the date it was given. There are a number of details, including type of vaccine, date of first doses, date of second doses (if already provided), date to return for second doses, that are included with the vaccine cards provided. The details are also recorded within the records the Ministry of Health retain in our possession. We do not deny that in the one instance that was described in the letter to the media that the public health nurse erred in not fully completing the vaccination card. We are grateful that it was pointed out to her and that she was able to complete the card. We have, since reading of this instance, highlighted this example to the many hard-working public health nurses so that we have 100% compliance with the procedure, which includes the total completion of all the cards.
Each person that is vaccinated is also provided with a brochure that describes the vaccine that was used for that particular person. We are urging persons to examine their cards before they leave to ensure that both the type of vaccines used and the date for their next dose are recorded. In addition, we have a number of auditors working at each site that ask persons when they are leaving to look at their cards. Although I am not one of those persons, I have personally requested permission to examine cards of persons already vaccinated. For the more than 100 cards I have looked at only in one instance I found that the date for the second dose was not provided. Still, we must be diligent and ensure that, at all times, the cards are completely filled.
We have registered for emergency use in Guyana a number of vaccines. We have for decades utilized a registration system for vaccines and medicines that is also being used for the COVID-19 Vaccines. As part of our registration process, we have utilized the WHO pre-approval process. The WHO has not completed their evaluation of all vaccines submitted to them for pre-approval. Thus far, Sinopharm, Novavax, Johnson and Johnson, and Sputnik V are vaccines awaiting to complete the WHO pre-approval process. Should we proceed with the WHO pre-approval system, we will not be able to vaccinate our people in any meaningful way. The WHO has so far only registered Pfizer, Moderna and the Astra Zeneca from India, UK and South Korea. Pfizer vaccines are not available now and we have no way to determine how early we could access Pfizer vaccines. Astra Zeneca from India has been made available to developing countries in a limited way.
We also utilize the Stringent Regulatory Authority of the USA, Canada, the EU and the UK. Thus far, using this system, we could register Astra Zeneca, Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson vaccines. Only Astra Zeneca in a limited amount, is available from among these.
A third criteria utilized is any two or more of the Stringent Regulatory Authorities recognized by the WHO. Based on this, the following vaccines are available for registration in Guyana – Astra Zeneca from India, South Korea, the UK, Pfizer. Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, Novavax, Sinopharm and Sputnik V. All of these have been registered in Guyana. But of these, the only vaccines available for procurement at this time for countries like Guyana are Astra Zeneca, Sinopharm and Sputnik V and all of these are available only in limited quantities.
Guyana has utilized Sinopharm and Astra Zeneca. Our policy is that we will, access any one of the vaccines already registered in Guyana that becomes available for procurement. We have engaged India, China, Russia, Astra Zeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and will continue to engage all of them. We will utilize any of the vaccines from among these since we believe that time is of the essence. Clearly some of these vaccines will not be available to Guyana and developing countries anytime soon. We will wait for them. Vaccinating our people now is more important than making a choice as to which we prefer if that preference means we must wait.
While we recommend that every Guyanese and persons residing in Guyana accept the vaccines offered, and while we are promoting 100% vaccination of persons 18 years and older, Guyana does not practice mandatory vaccination.
Dr. Leslie Ramsammy
Advisor to the Minister of Health