It is in the national interest for all adult Guyanese to take the COVID-19 vaccine

Every single country, no exception, has discovered that specific public health measures are critically important in fighting COVID-19. These measures, such as masking, social distancing and sanitation, like washing hands regularly, have restricted the COVID-19 virus. But these, by themselves, have not been sufficient in stopping the COVID-19 virus. Every country now is finding out that the only way to exit the COVID-19 pandemic is via mass vaccination. Israel, Bhutan, the UK, the USA are some countries where vaccination is proving effective in staving off the pandemic.

The responsible thing for us in Guyana is to put our differences aside and on this one issue come together to ensure rapid vaccination across Guyana. The Ministry of Health welcomes constructive suggestions as we roll out the vaccines across Guyana.   

Through the Ministry of Health, the Government of Guyana is actively rolling out the COVID-19 vaccination program, with an intent to vaccinate all adults living in Guyana this year. Therefore, we urge everyone to work together so that every adult living in our country is immunized against the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) sooner than later. In this regard, we appreciate that persons such as the former Minister in the Ministry of Health and present APNU/AFC MP, Dr Karen Cummings, took her vaccine and publicly urged others living in Guyana to take their vaccines. Likewise, we urge other MPs and political leaders who have also taken the vaccine to do their part and publicly encourage persons to take their vaccines.

At the same time as responsible Guyanese are coming forward, some persons have deliberately misrepresented the vaccination rollout. Some persons even have suggestions that are not feasible. One piece of advice in the letter column, for example, urged the GOG to pay each person $25,000 to take the vaccine. Vaccination in Guyana, COVID-19 or not, is voluntary and the GOG has never in more than 60 years of the vaccination program ever made vaccination mandatory. Vaccination is also free in Guyana. In a sense, payment to take any vaccine is a coercive action, forcing people to take the vaccine to receive a $25,000 payment. The Government has previously provided $25,000 per household as COVID-19 relief. But that relief fund was not conditional on persons following any of the public health measures. We prefer to educate people and make people aware of the need for vaccination and the protection vaccination offers.     

There is, no doubt, vaccine hesitancy is in Guyana. The Ministry of Health has said so from the beginning. Every country, without exception, has had and is responding to the difficulty of vaccine hesitation. One letter writer has taken an oceanic leap by equating vaccine hesitation in Guyana to people not trusting the GOG or the health workers. Vaccine hesitation is a complex issue. We know from the vaccine hesitancy survey conducted in Guyana that much of the vaccine hesitation is due to unfounded myths and fake stories. The stories that the vaccine will computerize people, that the vaccine will make people impotent, that the vaccine is a time bomb, that the vaccine will turn people into animals, that the vaccine will paralyze people are fake stories spread through social media and in whisper campaigns. These are not stories linked to any distrust of the Government. These are stories of misinformation, which would harm the people who fall prey to them.

We all would like to return to a state of normalcy and to do so, we must do our part in addressing vaccine hesitancy. Each of us who know better must encourage and educate others to come forward and take their vaccines to reach herd immunity. It would be difficult for us to achieve herd immunity if we are intentionally or intentionally sewing distrust.

This weekend, the Ministry of Health, via a committed and dedicated group of public health professionals and a large group of volunteers, hopes that more than 150,000 persons would receive their first doses of vaccines. If we work hard together, we can accomplish this milestone. The Government of Guyana has taken an aggressive approach to acquire vaccines. We have done so through bilateral donations from India (80,000 doses), China (20,000), Barbados (3,000) and through multilateral arrangements such as COVAX and buying. Through these arrangements, we have secure vaccines for our adult population. Thus, while most countries are working towards a 20% coverage by the end of 2021, Guyana is working towards reaching herd immunity. We are all in this together, so let’s work together to dispel the myths, reduce vaccine hesitancy, and promote vaccination against COVID 19. So, let’s come together for a vaccinated Guyana.