‘The pandemic not over’

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….Anthony warns as 80,000 persons in Guyana still to receive 1st dose of COVID-19 vaccine 

Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony said while more than 432,024 persons, 18 years and above, have been vaccinated against the deadly Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) in Guyana, representing 84.2% of the country’s adult population, the numbers indicate that 80,959 persons are still to receive the first dose of the vaccines as of Sunday, February 27.

Based on the stats provided, some 327,775 persons, 18 years and older, in Guyana are fully vaccinated against the virus, representing some 63.9% of the country’s adult population. However, this means that of Sunday, 185, 205 persons had not gone to take their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine – a situation the Health Minister said is worrying.

Minister Anthony, at the time, was delivering an address during the opening ceremony of a COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy Workshop at the Regency Hotel on Monday. US Ambassador, Sarah-Ann Lynch; UNICEF’s Representative, Nicolas Pron; and the Director of Primary Healthcare Services, Dr. Ertenisa Hamilton were among the officials present.

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The Health Minister said UNICEF funded studies in Guyana have shown that hesitancy towards the COVID-19 vaccines is fueled largely by misinformation. According to him, the studies have shown that many persons are relying on social media platforms such as Facebook for their medical advice.

“They are taking advice from Facebook; they are taking advice from other social media entities and very often what is being spread there is a lot of misinformation…and because of this initial misinformation, that I think is what is driving hesitancy, and we need to change that, we really need to change that,” the Health Minister said.

Vaccine hesitancy, he posited, is negatively impacting the inoculation of children within the 12-17 cohort. He pointed out that just over 33,500 or 46% of the children within that age group have received their first dose of the vaccines while approximately 24, 200 of the second dose have been administered to this cohort, representing 33.2%. The figures indicate that approximately 39,400 children – ages 12-17 – have not yet received their first dose of the vaccine while approximately 48,732 have not returned for their second dose.

It was noted that the vaccination rates remain low in Regions 10, 8, 7, and parts of Region 2.

Minister Anthony, explained that among the challenges facing the Health Ministry is the inability to obtain approval from some parents and guardians to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to the 12-17 cohort.

The Health Minister said while persons are behaving as though the COVID-19 pandemic is over, it is simply not the case. “We are still having persons, who when we test them, are coming back positive; and we still have persons coming into the hospital,” he said.

According to statistics released by the Health Ministry on Monday, eight (8) persons are in the COVID-19 ICU while 32 persons were in institutional isolation and another 441 persons in home isolation. To date, 1,220 persons within Guyana have died from the virus from a total of 62,921 positive cases.

Minister Anthony said the majority of persons who have been hospitalized are unvaccinated, and suffer from comorbidities – two or more diseases. He said vaccination against the virus is not only safe but effective, and prevents hospitalization and even death.

He said it important for health officers to return to the communities and ensure persons, including community and religious leaders, understand the importance and effectiveness of the vaccine.

“…if they [community and religious leaders] have the wrong attitudes toward vaccination, then that whole community develop the wrong attitude to vaccination,” he said, while underscoring the importance of reducing or eradicating altogether the hesitancy among the population.

The UNICEF Representative said the COVID-19 vaccines remain an important tool in enabling the country, and world at large to return to a state of normalcy.

“… we have enough vaccines in Guyana for everyone who needs them, uptake is over 50%, people have been educated about the vaccines – but the job is not yet done. There are still persons who are hesitant…and misinformation about the vaccines continues to stymie efforts to reach herd immunity,” Pron said.

He said health workers must help vaccine-hesitant individuals understand the importance of vaccination against the deadly disease, and the workshop will equip them with the requisite knowledge to combat misinformation.

“This engagement at the community level is critical to reaching individuals who may need just a little more information and reassurance before they take the important step to get vaccinated and protect themselves, their families and their communities,” the UNICEF Representative reasoned.

The US Ambassador also underscored the importance of combatting misinformation in the quest to achieve herd immunity, minimize positive cases, severe illnesses and even death.

Ambassador Lynch said the US remains a resolute partner to Guyana in its COVID-19 response. It was pointed out that to date, the US has donated nearly 300,000 Pfizer vaccine does, including doses through the COVAX system, to Guyana, ultra-low temperature freezers to store COVID-19 vaccines; Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to regional hospitals; 10 vaccination tents to strengthen the mobile vaccination drive across the country; and nearly US$1M in direct funding.

In total, the US Government, to date, has donated over US$7M IN COVID-19 funding to the Eastern and Southern Caribbean.



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