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There is a ground swell of hesitancy about taking the COVID-19 vaccine. There are multiplicities of reasons why this is so, including conspiracy theories, the government unveiling of the programme, its handling of the pandemic, its go-it-alone approach and news of the various vaccines. There continues to be concerns the government is not doing enough to combat the spread of the virus. The feeling is not without merit as infections and deaths continue to climb and the government continues to ignore urgings to adopt a national not partisanship approach in fighting the pandemic.
This publication recently carried a story by former Minister of Health Dr. Leslie Ramsammy urging the opposition to encourage its supporters to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Ramsammy is not new to healthcare management or, as believed, unaware of the importance of collective approaches in fighting pandemics. The World Health Organisation and many other international agencies and responsible governments have warned against a go-it-alone strategy.
Science and past experiences show whenever a national crisis exists the best way to fight and succeed is by utilising a national approach. The government has failed to do this and has to take some blame for the vaccination hesitancy. People by nature trust those they have confidence in. Given Guyana polarised politics, including the government, who when in the opposition was denying the seriousness of the pandemic, it would be hard to have much success without the input of the current opposition and other major stakeholders.
The government’s reliance and partnership with the private sector, in the fight against the pandemic, ignores employers cannot alone make workers and society receptive to government’s information and ambition. The approach also ignores that some leaders in the private sector are suspiciously viewed by citizens, which will not make the situation easier. It goes without saying, and worthy of repeating, the private sector is not seen as an influencer by many.
Major stakeholders like the opposition, trade unions, religious organisations and other social groups are needed in the fight against this deadly disease. Involvement of these groups is necessary to influence their membership and supporters, to share knowledge about the benefits and possible side effects of the vaccines, and the necessity of observing COVID-19 guidelines.
Guyanese are more informed about the vaccine not by the Government of Guyana but through the United States (U.S) media. People are aware in the trial phases the U.S was testing the effectiveness of the various vaccines on all demographics, including based on race and age. They know Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was withdrawn more than once given alleged concerns about its side-effects.
Guyanese see the administration of President Joe Biden working with pharmaceuticals to make sure the vaccines are safe for Americans. They see a President observing COVID-19 guidelines in all public events. People see President Biden often at the rostrum, updating Americans about the situation, never afraid to share the good and bad news, even as he expresses optimism in his national, all-inclusive approach, in fighting the pandemic.
But even in the U.S there is vaccination hesitancy. New approaches are being explored through public education, counselling, reaching out to churches, employers paying employees to take the vaccine, among other measures. The differences between the U.S and Guyana are the collaborative approaches from the federal government and Americans knowing they are only receiving vaccines made by American pharmaceuticals.
Guyana is getting vaccines from different countries and producers. There is skepticism whether these were tried on ethnic groups that live in Guyana. People have greater affinity with the U.S vaccines given who were part of the trial groups, a felt assurance the trials were rigorous and met acceptable guidelines. The Government cannot ignore this reality and the need to provide answers.
Again, the Government of Guyana cannot have a go-it-alone approach and dictate to others when they must get involved. The Opposition and other major players should have been involved from the inception but it is not too late to act now. Guyana’s rising deaths and infection rate are troubling enough to put the partisan politics aside for the national good.