Last Updated on Friday, 4 September 2020, 16:50 by Denis Chabrol
Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony said Guyanese experts would be holding talks with Russian officials about a COVID-19 vaccine that is now entering stage three trials, even as the country prepares to next week use a generic version of the antiviral drug, Remdesivir, to treat critically ill patients.
Dr, Anthony said there has been no decision to buy or commit to purchase the vaccine, SPUTNIK-5, at this time but Guyanese authorities are interested in in the details of the Russian process. “What we want to do is to ensure we understand the technology behind the vaccine, the science behind it and when it becomes available. Once it is effective, we want to make that call so that we can benefit it once it’s necessary,” he said.
The Health Minister explained that Guyanese authorities were interested in understanding the “science behind it, how it works” and its effectiveness before government makes any further decisions. “I think it’s important that we engage early so that we have more options to choose from,” he said. He said a Guyanese technical team would next week Thursday participate in a teleconference to learn more about SPUTNIK 5.
He observed that, based on reviews in the medical journal, Lancet, the Russian vaccine seems to be safe but Guyana would await the outcome of the phase three trial and, if successful, this country would obtain supplies.
Dr. Anthony has said Guyana is also part of the COVAX initiative of the PROSUR bloc of nations- with Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru-that will be negotiating with several vaccine producers to sell their products at reduced prices.
With the death toll now 44 in less than one month, the Health Minister said government has obtained a batch of 240 doses of generic Remdesivir that would be administered to patients at the Infectious Disease ward to help shorten their distress. “The doctors here have already decided on the protocol of use so hopefully some of the critically patients would be able to benefit from this new medication,” he said. He hoped that Remdesivir would be able to shorten the severity of the disease as has been the experience in the United States (US).
Brand name Remdesivir, being produced by the Gilead Foundation, is mostly available in the US.
The Health Minister said Guyana was also in talks with India’s Serum Institute to possibly access some of the 1 billion doses of a coronavorus vaccine being developed there.
He also sounded an appeal for recovered COVID-19 patients to supply blood plasma as there is proof that this has been treating patients successfully in Guyana.
A day after India donated more than 30,000 hydroxychloroquine tablets to Guyana, the Health Minister said frontline health workers have proven that a combination of that medication and zinc has been preventing them from contracting the potentially deadly coronavirus, COVID-19.
The Health Minister said the results from 500 samples were expected back from the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) on Friday and another 500 were due to leave shortly. He said there would now be a backlog of just over 900 samples waiting to be tested. Efforts are being made to increase testing capacity t0 fast-track the turnaround time between taking samples and delivering results.
The Health Minister aid Guyana’s recent acquisition of ventilators from India would see each of the 12 beds at the Georgetown Hospital Infectious Disease Unit having one of the oxygen-support machines. He said equipment has been already procured for infectious disease Intensive Care Units to be established at regional hospitals.