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…defends paying double for unapproved Russian shots
Hours after the Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Harmon called on President Irfaan Ali to come clean on the Government’s alleged involvement in an illegal vaccine racket, the Health Ministry has denied any illegality.
Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang (VG), in a recent global investigative report, has linked Guyana to a COVID-19 vaccine racket in which intermediaries from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are obtaining the Sputnik vaccine and are re-selling it at a premium.
The report referenced to last November when Sheik Al Maktoum, accompanied by Umar Farooq Zahoor, visited Guyana on a private jet as a guest of the state and hosted by President Irfaan Ali.
According to the Norwegian newspaper, Zahoor is a Pakistani national who grew up in Norway, and is wanted as part of an investigation into a massive fraud. However, he is reportedly being protected by the United Arab Emirates and his close associate Sheik Al Maktoum.
But the Health Ministry denied any illegality.
“At no time did Guyana procure vaccines from any illegal entity or anyone in trouble with legal authorities anywhere. At no time did Guyana access vaccines secretly from anyone. In every instance, the Ministry of Health has followed the established process and has established legally binding contracts to ensure the timely delivery of these vaccines,” the Health Ministry said in a statement Wednesday evening.
The Health Ministry said in an attempt to ensure sufficient supplies it held bilateral discussions with countries, namely India, China, Russia, the US, the EU, Kuwait and the UAE.
In addition, Guyana had bilateral talks with manufacturers AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, SinoPharm, Covaxin, Russian Direct Investment Fund. The Government also held discussion with several multilateral organizations, including the Organization of the Islamic States, the African Union/Caricom initiative and COVAX.
However, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson were not in a position to supply vaccines to Guyana in 2021. Johnson and Johnson later indicated that its timeline could be shifted to the 4th quarter of 2021.
“Guyana was not willing to wait on Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson. Clearly, for immediate vaccination of the Guyanese people, our immediate reaction was to seek other options. Under these circumstances, Guyana approached countries like China, Russia, and India to seek direct procurement,” the Ministry said while noting that those discussions are still ongoing.
It said it was during those discussions that the Government saw an opportunity to secure the COVID vaccine through the UAE.
“It was during these discussions that an opportunity to procure 400,000 doses of Sputnik through the UAE presented itself. Guyana took the opportunity to procure Sputnik vaccines under this arrangement while keeping our options open for procurement from other sources,” it explained.
Guyana procured 400,000 doses of Sputnik V vaccines from Dubai, however, only 305,000 doses have been received.
Guyana expects to receive 95,000 doses of Sputnik vaccines from this procurement to arrive in Guyana soon.
“Guyana opted to buy vaccines to complement the donations received and ensure that we have an adequate supply of vaccines for every adult. Guyana has purchased the following vaccines through direct procurement: Sputnik V vaccines – the Office of Admed Dalmook Al Maktoum; Johnson and Johnson and other vaccines – African Union and the SinoPharm vaccines – Sinopharm,” the Ministry explained.
The Health Ministry said it is no secret that Guyana paid $US22 per dose of the Sputnik V vaccine and $US17 per dose of Sinopharm. It said these prices include all associated cost, including ground and air transport.
“The Ministry of Health rejects the Leader of the Opposition’s malicious statement, which is intended to add to the whisper campaign in communities to slow down the COVID-19 vaccination campaign,” it said.
According to the Health Ministry, Guyana sought to procure directly from the Russian Sovereign Fund, but with no firm commitments on a delivery schedule, Guyana opted to utilize a supplier. “It was a good investment for our people at the time. It remains a good investment at this time. The Ministry of Health has no apologies in this regard,” the Ministry maintained.
The Health Ministry is maintaining that it has followed the SOPs for procurement, always obtaining NPTAB approval for procurement.