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—US-based Guyanese nurse cautions
…says the Gov’t has a responsibility, but so do the people
By Lisa Hamilton
Fear, religious beliefs and conspiracy theories are among the major factors contributing to vaccination hesitancy in Guyana. However, a Travel Nurse working in the United States, Ronessa Mingo, has observed the vaccination hesitancy in Guyana and opted to share her views.
Back in April 2020, Ronessa — a Guyanese and Lindener — shared her experience of working in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic overseas while she was a Surgical Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Nurse working at the Howard University Hospital. Recently, she observed the protests against mandatory vaccination in Linden and elsewhere in Guyana and, as a frontline worker working daily to save lives, she noted that she has mixed views on the protests but, without doubt, supports the importance of COVID-19 vaccination.
EDUCATION IS IMPORTANT
Over the past two weeks, the Government of Guyana has put in place restrictions to Government Ministries and Agencies, as well as healthcare facilities, for the unvaccinated. Vaccination requirements also apply to some businesses in the private sector, transportation operators and for travel to Guyana. Following protests in Linden whereby the key Mackenzie/Wismar bridge was blocked preventing the flow of traffic, Health Minister, Dr. Frank Anthony released an extension to the mandatory requirements, giving health workers and transportation operators two additional weeks to comply from August 11.
Also on August 11, over a week after introducing restrictions for the unvaccinated, Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Narine Singh released an updated vaccination policy with guidance to pregnant mothers, breastfeeding mothers, those with underlying conditions and more. It indicated who were to take the vaccines following approval from their health physicians, who were exempted if they so choose and who should wait a specific period of time before taking the vaccine for effectiveness or caution.
While she supports and encourages vaccination, Ronessa said that providing this information after vaccination was mandated is an error on the Government’s part. “They dropped the ball. They dropped the ball in that regard because there should have been enough research done to protect the wellbeing [of citizens]. That’s the whole point of the vaccination, it’s to protect the wellbeing of Guyanese citizens. In doing so, the first thing you must do is you must do an assessment of the situation. So, you must be able to look at pros, cons, who can get it, who can’t get it. These are things that they should have already squared away before putting any mandate on the people,” she said.
However, Ronessa also put forward that, even with an ample amount of education and awareness, there can still be a large portion of the population that could choose not to be vaccinated which would be detrimental to the country as a whole. Explaining her position, she said that considering all that has been fought for and lost, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, it is inconsiderate that some are choosing to refuse the facts about the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines, therefore putting themselves and their families at risk.
In such a case, she said that Governments around the world have had to make the decision to implement mandatory vaccination measures for the sake of the greater good. “When we look retrospectively at the history of government, the idea of government is to create a socio-economic contract between government and the people that ensures safety and reliability. Now, the goal of any government is to have a thriving economy. We cannot have a thriving economy if half of the population is sick or dying. So, when you talk about it being a personal choice, it has nothing to do with a personal choice at this point. If your decision, as an individual, will not reflect the greater good for the population it has to be mandated because that’s the only way the government will be able to protect the socio-economic future of the country,” she explained.
Because of the aggressive nature of the virus and its variants, Ronessa said that acting now and as fast as possible is best for every country. She added: “I believe that education plays a big part in it. Education will help to convince some people to get vaccinated, but you’re still going to have a pushback if these people are feeding off of one another.”
THE GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSIBILITY
However, when questioned about whether she believes there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed when it comes to mandatory vaccination, Ronessa said that she believes there are. She told the newspaper that it is the Government’s responsibility to make available to the public the best and safest vaccines as opposed to simply acquiring any vaccine. She said that the Government should do its due diligence as otherwise, it will only fan the flames of fear and hesitancy of the public towards accepting what they do not trust.
“There’s also two sides to the story in that the Government has to take full accountability and responsibility for producing and giving the most scientifically proven, efficient vaccine that there is for the safety of the individuals receiving the vaccine under their command. It is a responsibility that has to be taken on by the Government to give a vaccine that’s been proven efficient for the people in order to have people come on board,” she said. “And, if the World Health Organization does not approve it, I don’t think that it should be a vaccine that should be utilized at all. I think that the Government needs to invest their money and get vaccines that are proven to be efficient, based on the FDA standard as of right now. So, it’s our responsibility on both sides. It’s a responsibility of the citizens and it’s also a responsibility of the Government to come together and try to do it in such a way that people are protected.”
Ronessa also believes that the Government should not shy away from discussions on who bears the responsibility for a rare case of the death of a person as a result of COVID-19 vaccination, as this is a question that many persons have raised.
BUSTING THE MYTHS
Ronessa said that she has heard her fair share of theories against vaccination, most of which lack any supporting scientific data. There is also the spread of misinformation through zeroing in on very rare side effects of COVID-19 vaccines. As it relates to myths about the contents of the COVD-19 vaccines, she explained that approved vaccines are not made out of the live coronavirus. Conducting its own research, the Village Voice News found that different COVID-19 vaccines use different technologies. The most conventional is the inactivated vaccine which contains ‘dead’ virus. Because the virus is still whole, it has all of the parts that can stimulate antigens. This platform is used by Sinovac and Sinopharm.
However, the Janssen/Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is a vector vaccine. In this type of vaccine, genetic material from the COVID-19 virus is inserted into a different kind of weakened live virus. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and the Sputnik V vaccine are also viral-vectored vaccines whereby a harmless virus, such as a virus that gives a cold, is altered so that it can infect one cell but can’t reproduce and go on to infect other cells.
Then the virus is altered to carry the gene for a protein of interest, such as the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, with the DNA sequence for the spike protein combined into the virus’s DNA. Because the body recognises that there’s a virus present, the response it mounts is very strong to the protein of interest and also to the viral vector. There are also the nucleic acid vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. These are a sequence of RNA — a really sensitive little molecule — wrapped up in a lipid droplet to stop it from being degraded in the body and help it get inside a cell. Once the RNA gets into a cell it instructs the cell to make the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein for the immune system to respond to.
From her experience in the United States, Ronessa said that, since the arrival and wide administration of the vaccines, there are much fewer deaths. Furthermore, in her own experience, over the summer where she works there were only two COVID-19 patients who made it to the ICU and they were unvaccinated. While there are some who would rather wait until there is complete approval and information about COVID-19 vaccines from organisations such as the FDA, Ronessa said that this could take several years during which the health of persons is being jeopardized.
THOUGHTS ON THE PROTESTS
Meanwhile, citizens in parts of Guyana have been protesting the Government’s restriction to the unvaccinated. Gaining much spotlight were the residents of Linden who moved to block the Wismar/Mackenzie Bridge in protest against mandatory COVID-19 vaccination. It was brought on by the closing of the Linden Hospital Complex to health workers and residents. Several parents with newborn babies also faced challenges entering the hospital. A two-week extension has been given to the unvaccinated to comply.
Observing the protests Ronessa said that it is the right for a person to protest if he/she believes that their rights are being violated but she only supports protest that is based on actual cases of the violation of rights rather than protests against taking the COVID-19 vaccine. She said: “Guyana is a democracy, and I am all for democracy. I’m all for having a say, I’m all for being the head and not the tail, I’m all for everybody standing up for their rights. However, I can only impart on you the wisdom that I know about the statistics associated with the vaccine. I do believe in freedom of choice, but I said that once those choices start to affect the people around you, it has to be mandated. I also believe that if they have their own solid reasoning behind protesting, I encourage them to do so safely.” Ronessa said she saw many maskless protesters who have accepted that the virus exists but continue to fail to protect themselves through the most basic means –wearing a facemask and social distancing. She encouraged Lindeners and the rest of Guyana to be safe and the Government to takes steps that build trust in the population so that vaccines can be administered and Guyana can be placed on better footing.