VACCINE POLITICS – SHOUTING ‘FIRE’ IN A CROWDED CINEMA


News reports on June 17 reveal that 224,853 persons in Guyana, representing 46.2 percent of the targeted adult population had taken the COVID 19 vaccine. Of these 94,243 persons or 19.4 percent have taken the second dose. Region 10 with 14 percent lags far behind the other regions. In all except Region 8, which is at 29.6 percent, more that 40 percent have been vaccinated with at least one dose. Region 6 is at 54 percent and Region 1 is at 55.9 percent.

Notwithstanding the excellent work that is being done to vaccinate as many people as possible, there are wide reports of vaccination hesitancy among the population. Responsible employers are complaining about significant resistance to the taking of vaccines by staff, which is very concerning. The above figures, particularly for Region 10 should be a cause for serious concern. It is such that the Government has begun house-to-house vaccination in that Region.

At this time when all responsible Guyanese should be careful about what they say publicly about vaccines, vaccination and the pandemic, and when all responsible Guyanese should be urging others to take the vaccine, the death toll of which is approaching 500, and rising by several deaths every week, Opposition Leader Joe Harmon last Thursday shouted ‘fire!’ He called for the suspension of the use of the batch of 200,000 Sputnik V COVID vaccines. He said that they were procured at exorbitant prices of over $600 million above market rate by the PPP via questionable means from Sheik Al Makoum of the United Arab Emirates who, a Norwegian newspaper, Verdens Gang, reports, is sourcing his vaccines via a Norwegian convict by the name of Per Morten Hansen. Mr. Harmon also noted that a batch of 200,000 fake Sputnik V vaccines was discovered in Mexico. Mr. Harmon said that unless the PPP can provide credible assurances that the vaccines are authentic, their use should be suspended. Those reluctant Guyanese who were persuaded to enter the vaccine compound will rush out and those who could have been persuaded to do so, will remain outside, watching the sparks fly.

It is beyond belief that a person of the stature of an Opposition Leader, who has himself taken the full dosage of Sputnik vaccines, would make such an extraordinarily, incendiary, public call in a vaccine resistant atmosphere, to suspend the use of the Sputnik vaccine based on unverified reports. This is a chillingly pyromaniacal attempt at politicisation by pouring fuel on unverified foreign reports that can only result in harm to the Guyanese people, many of whom are supporters of Mr. Harmon’s party. And this demand of the Government comes when there is disastrous flooding across the country, including in Region 10, the lowest vaccinated area and one of the major strongholds of APNU.

Mr. Harmon’s call can potentially affect the lives of Guyanese, many of them supporters of his party, when Guyana is facing two of the most devastating events in its recent history. He is playing politics by seeking a political advantage over his political opponents with scant regard for the dangers of a higher vaccine resistance among the Guyanese people. The harm of vaccine politics will be incalculable. It will strengthen the hesitancy of those who are currently unwilling to take the vaccine and create a higher degree of resistance among those who are already inclined to be. If the potential of further vaccine hesitance is realized by Mr. Harmon’s reckless statement, the health and well-being of Guyanese would be adversely affected. It would be doubly difficult for the health authorities to persuade the people of Region 10, the Deputy Chairman of which, a supporter of Mr. Harmon’s party, has already died from complications of covid, to take the vaccine. The widely accepted welfare of the Guyanese people should never be a matter of partisan politics.

Mr. Harmon’s call has for the suspension of the Sputnik vaccine, which has already been safely taken by 61,000 persons, based on the frivolous allegations made, have been easily and quickly rejected and ridiculed. It is a clear attempt to politicise Guyana’s vibrant vaccination programme. In trying to promote Trinidad’s efficiencies, after a disastrous beginning, Prime Minister Rowley of Trinidad and Tobago got caught up in the vaccine quarrel by claiming that Guyana was using vaccines not approved by the World Health Organisation when, in fact, many countries are doing so. His statement, like Mr. Harmon’s could also potentially engender vaccine hesitancy in Guyana. Both of these gentlemen, having been caught out and criticised, began beating their breasts and foaming at their mouths, the one in aggressive retort, the other in angry demands.

The COVID pandemic and the floods are disasters of a national character, affecting every single group and strata of Guyanese. The COVID pandemic affects rich and poor. The floods have their worst impact on mainly farmers and the poor. This is a time when, if there are discrepancies, doubts and inefficiencies, dangers, or deliberately discriminatory practices, they should be brought to the attention of government officials or those in authority as soon as possible, without creating dangers and tensions in the society by dangerous and divisive demands. Can Mr. Harmon be persuaded?

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