Politics, misconceptions hurting Covid vaccine roll out

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Advisor to the Ministry of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy (DPI photo)

…Dr. Ramsammy calls on opposition leaders to encourage supporters to take the shot

In general, there are several reasons behind COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. While the BBC recently reported a hesitancy among the African population due to historic experience of clinical trials being carried out in African countries, in a multi-ethnic Guyana,  Advisor to the Ministry of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy said that the current hesitancy is less about race and more about politics and misconceptions.

After this weekend, Guyana would have vaccinated approximately 140,000 persons with the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine thereby bringing its level of vaccination of the total population to some 21 percent, a lead position in the Caribbean.

In an interview with the Village Voice News, Dr. Ramsammy said that while he is definitely pleased with Guyana’s progress, there is still more that politicians can do to dispel the many misconceptions about the vaccines floating about.

“The global average at this moment is about 15 percent. So, Guyana, in terms of first dose, is significantly ahead of the global average. From that perspective, I am satisfied,” Dr. Ramsammy said, noting that much appreciation must go to health workers who have been working beyond the call of duty.

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STILL SOME HESITANCY

The COVID-19 vaccine being administered (DPI photo)

However, having said that, he added that there is still a number of persons 18 years and older who have not yet made the move to take their vaccines. Some of these persons, he said, have been deterred by misconceptions and are not being encouraged by their political leaders who have taken the vaccines themselves.

“Is there a vaccine hesitancy in Guyana? The answer is yes but there is a vaccine hesitancy around the world. That hesitancy is based on a number of false and misrepresented facts,” he said.

“I think it’s not so much race, it might end up, if you look at the numbers, like it’s a preference by one group over another but I think that a lot of it has to do with certain pressures within the community, I think that is more important.”

He expounded that while the President, Prime Minister and Ministers of Government have taken the vaccine and openly spoken about it, the former President, David Granger and current Opposition Leader have also been vaccinated but aren’t openly encouraging persons to be vaccinated.

WE NEED EVERYONE ON BOARD

The Health Advisor said that he, nonetheless, believes progress is being made as, recently, the former Minister within the Ministry of Public Health, Dr. Karen Cummings took the vaccine and encouraged others to do the same.

“That’s a step forward and I hope that more of her colleagues who have taken the vaccine already, whose families have taken the vaccine, that they will also come out and speak. So, I think, more than a racial thing, it’s more of a political line so I hope that more political leaders from the Opposition will speak out.” He also encouraged religious leaders to do the same.

Some of the misconceptions he has heard locally that need to be addressed are that men who take the vaccine will become impotent, persons will become paralyzed, persons will blow up after a while and that the Government is using the vaccine to implant a listening device or chip into the arms of persons. All of the aforementioned, he said, are both false and absurd.

“These stories that are spreading on social media that people repeatedly talk about in the villages are just absurd and I hope that people dispel them from their minds and come out and take the vaccine,” he said. Just after Mother’s Day, May 9, 2021, he expects that some 200,000 persons would have been vaccinated with their first dose.

THE CRUCIAL SECOND DOSE

Meanwhile, as it stands after this weekend, close to 10,000 persons would have been vaccinated with the second dose and this number is set to soon increase. The Ministry has begun to remind persons to return to take their second dose and is also informing them about the importance of doing so.

Dr. Ramsammy said: “They need a booster shot because you start developing antibodies to COVID virus and after a rapid start it kind of plateaus so what you want to do is to boost it forward again. So, the second dose boosts it and therefore strengthens the immune response…it would be a shame if we take the first dose and we don’t get the second dose in order to maximize the vaccine impact.”

The Health Advisor also used the opportunity to respond to several frequently asked questions. These include whether pregnant women can take the vaccine, whether someone who had had COVID-19 in the past and is now without symptoms can take the vaccine and whether breastfeeding mothers can take the vaccine. The answers, he said, to all of the above is yes.

Between 75 to 80 percent of Guyana’s population needs to be vaccinated for the country to achieve herd immunity.



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