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–but health minister says 2nd dose readily available
By Svetlana Marshall
Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony said while Guyana has sufficient vaccines to inoculate the more than 80,000 persons (18 years and older), who are still to receive their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, the country is now ‘easing-up’ the use of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine due to low uptake.
“… we have now eased up from the Sputnik vaccine but we do have for persons who had their first dose, for them to get second dose,” Minister Anthony told reporters on Monday, in response to a question posed by the Village Voice News on the sideline of a Vaccine Hesitancy Workshop at the Regency Hotel.
He said people are simply not requesting the Sputnik vaccine as before. “Most people are not requesting that; so most people when they come they either want to get a Pfizer or J&J so we have been administering them,” Dr. Anthony explained.
The Health Minister, at the time, was unable to indicate how many 1st and 2nd doses of the Sputnik vaccines have been administered to date, however, he assured that there are sufficient 2nd dose Sputnik available for those persons who have already received their first dose.
“Basically, we have second dose for those persons that would have received a first dose, so we were keeping it to make sure that we cover those persons who need the second dose because again, a first dose Sputnik differs from a second dose Sputnik and you need the two for them to work in tandem for you to get the best effect,” Minister Anthony told reporters. He said is important for persons to return for their second dose of Sputnik.
It was noted that some persons, who have been fully vaccinated with the Sputnik, have returned for boosters that are different. “Most of the people with Sputnik we were able to give them the J&J vaccine as a booster because the structure of the first dose Sputnik vaccine is similar to a J&J vaccine, so we have been using the J&J as the booster dose,” Minister Anthony explained.
However, the Health Minister was keen on noting that other types of vaccines – 1st and 2nd doses – are being administered, such as Pfizer, J&J, AstraZeneca and Sinopharm.
NO WHO APPROVAL
While the Sputnik V vaccine has been granted full permanent approval by Russia’s Health Ministry, it is not among vaccines granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the World Health Organisation (WHO) close to two years after it was developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology – a situation which has been of major concern for the parliamentary opposition, particularly the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC).
Under pressure from the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Coalition, the Irfaan Ali Administration during mid-2021 disclosed that it procured thousands of doses of the Sputnik-V vaccine from Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It explained that to ensure sufficient supplies, the Ministry of Health held bilateral discussions with India, China, Russia, the US, the EU, Kuwait and the UAE, in addition to bilateral talks with AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, SinoPharm, Covaxin and the Russian Direct Investment Fund, however, when those discussions bore little fruit, it jumped at an opportunity to procure 400,000 doses of Sputnik through the Sheikh.
Guyana’s Advisor to the Ministry of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, in defending Government’s decision to utilized an unauthorized vaccine, had said that the country considered not only data submitted from clinical trials by Russia but it also carefully considered the scrutiny of the clinical trials data done by the Lancet, the British Medical Journal.
“Globally, the use of COVID-19 vaccines became an emergency, an imperative. Individual countries considered clinical trials data and used their national registries to approve emergency use for vaccines. The UK and other European countries began using AstraZeneca before World Health Organization (WHO) approval. The US began using Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson before the WHO approval. Russia began using Sputnik V before WHO approval. India, China began using locally produced vaccines before WHO approval.
Given the data available to us and which were submitted to the WHO, Guyana made a decision that saving lives is more important than risking people’s lives and approved Sputnik V, AZ, SinoPharm, Pfizer and other vaccines,” Dr. Ramsammy explained. Both Dr. Ramsammy and the Health Minister, Dr. Frank Anthony have repeatedly indicated that the Sputnik vaccine has an efficacy rate of 97% though not approved by WHO.
But while some Guyanese have questioned the Government’s decision to utilize an unauthorized vaccine, others have questioned the authenticity of the vaccine procured from the Sheikh.