COVID-19 vaccines are safe, whether people get it in a hospital, church, mandir, masjid
There are more than 100 fixed-site vaccination centers in Guyana where people can get their COVID-19 vaccines. These sites are open every day. There are also some out-reach sites which individuals and groups have organized. These sites are temporary, usually lasting for a day. There are three conditions for the MOH to send teams to these sites – first, the number of persons to be vaccinated must make sense for the Ministry to send a dedicated team for a day; second, residents in the community are not prevented from getting vaccines on the basis of religion, politics or any other factor and, third, the persons meet the eligibility requirement. At the moment the eligibility is based only on age – 40 years and older.
With due respect to Swami Aksharnanda, I believe that his letter published in the newspaper is unfortunate and misrepresent the facts. The COVID-19 vaccines are being administered to persons resident in Guyana across the country, every person. As stated before, there are more than one hundred (100) fixed-site places that vaccines are being administered on a daily basis at this time. All of these fixed-sites are government health centers or hospitals. None of the fixed-sites are in any private facility or any masjid, or any mandir or any church.
The MOH has urged faith leaders, political leaders, NGOs, businesses etc. to help mobilize persons for vaccination. Mostly, community leaders have come together to organize persons within their communities. Sometimes, they mobilize persons at a school, other times at a masjid, other times in a mandir and still other times in a Christian church. At none of these sites are persons vaccinated on the basis of religion. I have personally been at many of these sites. I will continue to visit these sites. To vaccinate people, we will go wherever we are invited. What we will not do is a vaccination exercise where vaccines are provided only for a specific group, based on religion or politics or some other factor.
This model has been used before, for blood drives, where we have gone to churches, madirs, masjids. and the blood drives were never restricted to persons of only one religion, even if the drive occurred at a specific church, or mandir, or masjid. The Swami knows this well. Our people are among the world’s most tolerant of each other’s religion and we share religious events and each other’s space for many, many decades. I have been honored and privileged for decades working in solidarity with our religious leaders. Everyday, I sit with these leaders in the same room in various communities and we work together without any animosity or tension. The vaccine is important to people, not at which site they get it.
CIOG, Dharmic Sabha, the Presbyterian Church and many pastors have worked with us so far. Yesterday, the Canefield/Enterprise NDC hosted a vaccination day. The NDC councilors, the imams, pandits and pastors got together and organized the event. The original suggestion from the community was that the event be held at a recreational center across the NDC. But the technical persons suggested that it was too small to accommodate the number of persons that was expected. The recommendation among the community persons was that the ideal place was the Dharmic Veda Center. Almost two hundred persons were vaccinated yesterday at that center – they were Christians, HIndus and Muslims. The site did not matter, what mattered was these persons had an opportunity to get a vaccine.
Two weeks ago, the NDC at Success organized a similar outreach. They chose the masjid at Success as the most suitable site. Two weeks ago also the CIOG hosted a vaccination event for the residents of North Georgetown. Most of the people were not Muslims. The Dharmic Sabha’s Kendra Center hosted a vaccination outreach last Saturday. Many persons were from different religious backgrounds. The #52-#74 NDC has organized a vaccination outreach. I met them yesterday, brothers and sisters, who were Muslims, Hindus, Christians, working together to ensure that those 40 years and older in their community are fully vaccinated. They chose a Christian Church as the most suitable venue.
At this time, we need all hands on board. It is unfortunate that religion has crept in to the process we have developed in the rolling out of the vaccine. I hope the Swami, on second thought, would see that far from favoring one group or another, we are trying to reach everyone. I invite him to join us in ensuring that persons who reach the eligibility come forward to get their vaccines. The vaccines provided from the government fixed-sites are not better than the vaccines at outreach sites – whether these are schools, a business place, a Masjid, a Mandir or a Church.
Dr. Leslie Ramsammy