Full statement issued by Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon on June 21, 2021
Vaccine vacillations – Part 1
Any reasonable person ought to appreciate any government, red or green, being anxious to procure COVID-19 vaccines for citizens.
One can imagine that had the Coalition Government been in office it would have been as equally desperate as the PPP to secure vaccines in sufficient numbers to administer to people.
Minister of Health Dr. Frank Anthony is at least right about one thing. It is common public knowledge that there is vaccine scarcity globally and it is exceedingly difficult for small states, such as ours, to access vaccines. He offered this, at least in part, as the reason why his administration opted to purchase billions of dollars of Sputnik V vaccines from Sheik Dalmook Al Maktoum.
It is entirely understandable that the PPP administration found itself in a difficult situation, as any government would have been, in attempting to secure vaccines for Guyanese.
Vaccine anxiety or vaccine desperation along with vaccine scarcity cannot, however, cause any government to take shortcuts with the health and wellbeing of our people.
No government can wilfully put the lives of people at risk while claiming that it is trying to save those very lives. Such a position is a contradiction.
There are two issues which are either being deliberately or unwittingly conflated and this is resulting in the issue becoming skewed.
Let us separate them.
1. Vaccine price
2. Vaccine safety
Let us set aside the secondary issue of vaccine price for now and focus exclusively on the issue of vaccine safety.
The PPP has effectively admitted to the nation that it has knowingly taken shortcuts.
1. The PPP government admitted that due to their inability to conclude an agreement with any of the WHO approved vaccine manufacturers they opted to purchase the non-WHO approved Sputnik V vaccines.
2. The PPP government admitted that due to their inability to procure Sputnik V vaccines directly from the manufacturer that it did so instead from a middleman – Sheik Dalmook Al Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates.
We know what we now know about what the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang has reported about how Sheik Dalmook Al Maktoum conducts business and who he unapologetically holds as his dubious and convict associates. This was after a detailed, months long international investigation by the newspaper.
How can any government that purports to care and with an ounce of humanity and smidgeon of conscience not appreciate that knowing what we now know, any Guyanese who has taken the Sputnik V vaccine procured from the Sheik would be worried sick about what it was that was injected into their body.
How can any person who has not yet been vaccinated not be extremely skeptical about being vaccinated with Sputnik V which is the most widely available vaccine in Guyana.
For me, it is not so much an issue of the authenticity of the Sputnik V vaccine. Let us accept that it can be reasonably presumed that the Sheik sold the government of Guyana authentic Sputnik V vaccines.
The greater concern for me, is whether the Sputnik V vaccines sold by the Sheik to Guyana were stored, at all material times, and transported from wherever they were stored to Guyana under the strict and demanding standards for their storage and transportation.
COVID vaccine storage has been a key issue from the time the first vaccines were developed. Most COVID vaccines, including Sputnik V, must be stored at an extremely cold temperature well below zero degree.
We know that even the slightest of shortcuts or compromises in the storage temperature and conditions of the vaccines would result in them becoming spoiled and thus useless. A man, such as the Sheik, who demonstrably does business with convicts and men wanted for fraud cannot be implicitly trusted, on his word, to store vaccines at the exacting standards required. There must be documentation and other evidence to confirm safe vaccine storage.
It boggles the mind therefore why the PPP would stubbornly refuse to provide information which can confirm that the vaccines were stored in the stipulated condition from the time those vaccines left the manufacturer – the Russian Gamaleya National Centre of Epidemiology and Microbiology – to the time they arrived at port Georgetown.
Continued refusal to provide this information to the public will only lead to further speculation that the PPP does in fact have something to hide. What that could be, the public will also speculate on until the PPP provides definitive information to clarify the situation. Until such time it can be reasonably expected that people yet unvaccinated will be hesitant to be vaccinated with Sputnik V acquired from the shady Sheik.