Advisor to the Health Minister, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, believes that while it is not Government’s position, tougher action should be taken against unvaccinated citizens.
His comments come in light of a post on his Facebook page which lauded the measures announced by France in relation to unvaccinated people.
France’s policy is that Public Sector workers can only go to work if they are either vaccinated or produce a weekly test to prove that they are COVID-19 negative. The same applies to people going to a restaurant, a show, or using public transportation.
“The most comprehensive policy on COVID-19 vaccination has been announced by the French President. It basically preserves the non-compulsory vaccination policy we all have, but it takes steps to protect those citizens who are vaccinated from those who are non-vaccinated. While someone has a right to refuse the vaccine, those persons do not have a right to expose the rest of us to their reckless risks,” the post stated.
Ramsammy has said that persons must be prepared to face the consequences if they are refusing the vaccine. He adding that “we must all do the same” as France.
On the sidelines of an event on Monday, Ramsammy explained that Guyana’s vaccination programme has always been voluntary, and while he does not foresee a change in that policy, public health is not about an individual right.
“It’s about the right of everyone, and we have examples where people can exercise their rights but it’s conditioned. The most well-known one is tobacco. So, you are free to smoke, even though I advise you or the Minister (advises) you that it is detrimental to your health, but you can’t smoke in here (in a closed building)… you have to go somewhere where you don’t expose other people,” he said.
He said it is the same with the vaccination programme, adding that while one is free to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine, one cannot put others at risk of contracting the virus.
“So, I have long advanced the position…that whilst it is still a voluntary exercise, taking the vaccine, that we also have a right, in fact we have an obligation to protect the rest of the population. This is not the Government’s position, so I’m speaking on my own behalf.
“I believe that, for those who refuse to take the vaccine, they must therefore guarantee the rest of us that they are not going to represent a risk to anyone of us. How do they do that? If you don’t want to take the vaccine, prove to me that you are not infected before you can share my workplace, before you can share my other space,” he said.
He further explained that, by exercising one’s right to refuse the vaccine, it also means that measures should also be put in place for them to not expose others to contracting COVID-19.
“I notice that France has now, as country, taken that position that whilst you’re free not to take the vaccine in order to participate in everyday life, with work, go to restaurants, go in a bus, you must prove that you are COVID free by taking a COVID test. But that test will not be offered by the public sector free…if you are more scared of the vaccine than COVID-19, then go do the tests at your cost. That’s what France is doing, and I think that now opens up the broader discussions in countries. I have just put it out there for us as citizens of this country to begin to think about and make decisions, because COVID is not going anywhere unless we collectively take the action to stop it,” Ramsammy argued.
“COVID will never be stopped if some of us are taking action and some are not, and the problem is that with variants, it could make our vaccine useless…every time a virus is transmitted, it changes, and we have a variant. It could be that a variant develops that the vaccine (doesn’t) recognise anymore. We cannot put the lives of our people at such great risk,” he added.
According to Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony, Guyana is still some distance away from achieving herd immunity, as only 26.5 per cent of the adult population has been fully vaccinated. However, more than 50 per cent of the adult population has received the first dose of the vaccine.
So far, 243,540 persons have received their first doses, while 128,847 persons have received their second doses.