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The following statement that I made as Minister of Health and Labour at the Pan-American Health Organisation Conference in 2000 still represents my position on immunization.
‘Madam President, we accept that for most countries, particularly poor ones, immunisation must be a major element in the routine effort to protect the health of our citizens. As a result, the vaccination coverage in Guyana has remained at levels well over 80% for the last 10 years. However, there is still need to improve coverage in hard to reach geographical areas. Despite the challenges, the hope is to increase coverage of the DPT (diphtheria-tetanus-whole cell pertussis) OPV (oral polio vaccine) and BCG (Bacillus Calmette–Guérin) antigens to 95% by the year 2005 in keeping with the goal of the Caribbean Community’s Caribbean Co-operation in Health Initiative.
Also in keeping with this initiative, Guyana as part of the Region of the Americas is committed to the elimination of measles and rubella by the year 2000. A national rubella campaign which was conducted in 1999, using the MMR (Measles Mumps, and Rubella ) vaccine, had a coverage of 80%. This has resulted in a decrease in the number of suspected rubella cases in 1999. Since 1991, Guyana has not had a single case of measles and we will continue to maintain intense surveillance. Surveillance is also being maintained for polio, tetanus, neonatal and adult diphtheria, whooping cough, pertussis, tuberculosis and yellow fever. Since 1962, Guyana has maintained a polio free status. For the other diseases previously mentioned, zero case status has been maintained for many years.
Madam President, Guyana is one of the 11 countries in the enzootic area for yellow fever. It implemented strategies in 1998 to prevent transmission of yellow fever within its borders. The national yellow fever campaign, which was conducted for persons one year and above, had a 85% coverage. To maintain the yellow fever vaccination coverage of the population, this antigen has been added to routine childhood immunization schedule. Guyana will be the recipient of Hepatitis B and Haemophhilus type B vaccines from the Global Programme for Vaccines and Immunisation. We wish to thank the organisers of this programme and to indicate that, in the interest of sustainability, these vaccines will also be added to annual vaccination schedule.
Madam President Guyana supports the resolution. In collaboration with PAH0 and others, we are committed to improving and increasing the range of our immunization coverage. Thank you.’
I am a staunch vaccine supporter and was vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as I became aware that vaccines were available. We are biological beings and vaccines represent one of the most effective ways of keeping us safe. When the polio vaccine was being introduced in the 1950s, some people refused to let their children have it and today those children as adults have had to suffering the consequences, so it is my estimation that it is foolish not to take the vaccine unless a physician recommends otherwise.
In about late 1998, when I was Minister of Health, an outbreak of yellow fever occurred on the Brazilian side of Guyana’s border. The ministry’s technical people assessed that the disease was unlikely to reach the populated areas on the coast and first recommended that only the border regions be vaccinated. Yellow fever is caused by the bite of a mosquito carrying the yellow fever virus. I had just completed a term as Minister of Housing and was aware of the many squatting areas without adequate drainage and related infrastructure all around the country. We had attempted to regularize some of these and had officially allocated some 5,000 house lots with rudimentary drainage and infrastructure. As these are ideal breeding grounds for the spread of yellow fever we decided to vaccinate the entire country. As stated above, by the end of 2000, having acquired more than one million shots of the vaccine, national coverage was about 85%. There must have been some recalcitrants but we did not have a yellow fever outbreak and so far as I am aware, the process went relatively well.
Of course, 1998 is far different from today: the vaccines we were using had been tried and tested, people had more faith in officialdom, social media with its surfeit of fake news did not exist and turbulent national political dissociation was not at the present day level.
It is said that normally about 30% of people are usually reluctant to take vaccines and so I believe that with an holistic, transparent and consensual programme of interventions it is possible to reach heard immunity without bullying. Government is a means to an end: the latter is to secure the life, liberty and prosperity of its entire people. We should not tolerate government prioritising its highly questionable political agenda which then compels it to enforce draconian rules to gain the compliance of the population.