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The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) has called for the Government to put aside its interest to expedite the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination programme and put a hold on all vaccines unapproved by PAHO/WHO for the comfort and safety of Guyanese.
In a statement on Tuesday, the GPSU stated that it has taken note of the recent vaccine discussion in Guyana which it believes has become more political than objective. Furthermore, the Union stated that Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony, who sits on the Executive Board of WHO, should not be taking lightly the fact that the Sputnik-V vaccine is not yet approved.
In the National Assembly last Monday, the Health Minister, while being grilled for approximately two hours by the Opposition, disclosed that the Sputnik-V vaccines procured for Guyana for use in its fight against the COVID 19 pandemic, were not procured directly from the Government of Russia, but through a middleman whom he identified as the Sheik Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum.
A call was subsequently made by Opposition Leader, Joseph Harmon for the Government to put a hold on the administration of the recently procured 200,000 doses of Sputnik-V vaccines until they can be verified as trustworthy.
However, both President Irfaan Ali and the Health Minister have chided the Opposition Leader for his remarks which they stated have negatively impacted the ongoing vaccination campaign and therefore jeopardized the lives of Guyanese. They defended the Sputnik-V as safe and approved for emergency use by Guyana’s regulatory agency, the Government Analyst Food and Drug Department (GA-FDD).
In its statement on Tuesday, the GPSU deemed the recent “political posturing” on the matter as “insensitive and irresponsible” considering the deadly nature of COVID-19 pandemic.
In stating its case, the GPSU first pointed out that it is a fact that persons in parts of the world have died post-vaccination which suggests that such is not impossible, even in Guyana. It then underscored that the Union fully supports the procurement and distribution of PAHO/WHO approved vaccines to the Guyanese public as well as the individual right of Guyanese citizens to refuse medical treatment, including vaccines after making informed decisions.
However, when it comes to the Sputnik-V vaccines which have not yet been approved by PAHO/WHO, the Union said that the Government must acknowledge the risk involved and act accordingly.
“In keeping with WHO health and safety guidelines, Guyana should not approve the roll out of this or any other vaccine not approved by the WHO,” the Union stated.
“GPSU do not subscribe to compromising safety (health) standards in order to expedite the vaccination programme and calls on the Government of Guyana to confirm to the higher standard – WHO Standards in acquiring the Covid-19 vaccines for distribution and use by the Guyanese population. The GPSU therefore firmly recommends a hold on all vaccines which are not WHO approved until such clearance is received in order to create a comfort level and assurance of safety in the minds of every citizen or potential users.”
Meanwhile, the Union also pointed out that Guyana is an elected member of the Executive Board of WHO represented by Dr. Anthony who it believes has not been pushing to maintain the organisation’s standards in Guyana.
The GPSU stated: “As a high-ranking member of this organization, Guyana should set an example by following the vaccination guidelines of this reputable health organization. It is even more imperative in the absence of all local capabilities to confirm safety and efficacy standards. The Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony has acknowledged Sputnik V vaccine has not yet enjoyed the approval of the WHO.”
The Union has also deemed the Guyana Medical Council “irresponsible” for its recent statements which assured the public that approval of the Sputnik-V vaccine is imminent in “coming weeks”.
Furthermore, the Union has taken contention with remarks from Government politicians who have demanded that members of the public take the vaccines or else.
“… an open threat was issued by a politician, that should citizens not take the vaccine now, they will be subjected to pay for same later. This made it obvious that the Government had no intention of instituting firmer and more serious measures which were considered necessary,” the Union stated.
The GPSU said that since the start of the pandemic, it has done its part to create awareness among its membership about the virus and the steps needed to prevent worst-case scenarios and has made representations to Government officials and pursued various options to address members’ concerns.
However, the Union indicated that it has been “increasingly disappointed” with the “ineffective handling of COVID-19 related matters by Government”. It named the Government’s efforts to contain the pandemic and the “ruthless and insensitive” treatment of frontline workers as two cases of mismanagement.
The Union stated that it even wrote to Prime Minister, Brigadier (Ret’d) Mark Phillips, as the Head of the COVID-19 Task Force on more than one occasion but received a less than favourable response.