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Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony said Government will not halt the use of the Sheik-acquired Sputnik-V vaccines as being demanded by the Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Harmon.
On Thursday morning, the Opposition Leader called on the Government to put a hold on the administration of the recently procured 200,000 doses of Russian-made Sputnik-V vaccines until they can be verified as trustworthy, but at press conference later on Thursday, the Health Minister said Harmon has been “reckless and irresponsible” in his actions.
“We are not going to stop this process; we are going to continue to use Sputnik-V vaccines because it is safe. Right now as I speak, this vaccine is being used in 74 countries around the world,” Dr. Anthony said.
He said Harmon is not a medical profession to pronounce on the efficacy of the vaccines. “He hasn’t produced any evidence that the vaccine is not safe. He hasn’t produced any evidence that the vaccine is not working but proceeded to make a conclusion that the vaccine is fake, and based on his analysis that the vaccine is fake has called on us to suspend the use of the vaccine in Guyana,” Dr. Anthony told reporters during a virtual press conference while making clear that he will not heed to such calls.
However, while the Opposition Leader did not dub the Sputnik-V vaccine “fake” as suggested by the Health Minister, he did expressed concern over its efficacy after it was revealed that the vaccine was sourced from Sheik Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who is allegedly embroiled in a vaccine scheme.
A 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 UAE are obtaining the Sputnik vaccine and are re-selling it at a premium.
The Opposition Leader recalled that it was November last that Sheik Al Maktoum, accompanied by Umar Farooq Zahoor, visited Guyana as a guest of the State and was hosted by President Irfaan Ali.
He said, 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
Notwithstanding the concerns of the Opposition Leader regarding the method of sourcing the vaccine, the Health Minister, who was joined by the Minister of Labour, Joseph Hamilton and the Minister of Public Affairs, Kwame McCoy, maintained that Sputnik-V vaccines remains one of the most effective vaccines though not approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“Sputnik-V, the trials, phase 1, phase 2, phase 3 trials, the data for those trials was published in one of the most prestigious journals in the world, that is the Lancet Journal, and the results are there for the whole world to see. The efficacy of the vaccine was deemed, when it was published in the Lancet, at about 94%,” he posited while noting that it is now being rated at 97% efficacy.
He added: “So there is no doubt about the efficacy of the vaccine; there is no doubt about the safety of the vaccine; this vaccine works. And most recently, this vaccine has been working against all of the variants we have seen so far.”
The Health Minister has assured that the requisite procedures were followed in acquiring the vaccine from the UAE, noting that the necessary approval was obtained from the Food and Drug Department here.
Further, while the Health Minister has described Harmon as an anti-vaxxer, the Opposition Leader, who has taken both the first and second dose of the Sputnik-V vaccine, said that the intention is not to cause terror or vaccine hesitancy with PAHO/WHO approved vaccines but to prevent possible harm from coming to the people of Guyana.
He told the media that should the Sputnik-V be approved and acquired from trusted sources, it will receive his support. Until then, he called on President Irfaan Ali to take on a posture of full disclosure about the Government’s procurement of vaccines and the specific vaccine in question.
The Ministry of Health, in a statement on Wednesday denied involvement in 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 Ministry stated.
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. 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.
The Ministry stated: “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.