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Health Minister: “There is nothing fake” about batch of Sputnik vaccines in response to Harmon’s call for suspension until verification

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 June 2021, 14:09 by Denis Chabrol

Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon on Monday called for a suspension of the use of a batch of 200,000 doses of Sputnik V vaccines until he could verify whether the jabs are not fake, but Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony has vowed to continue using that brand as is being done in  other countries to ensure Guyanese are protected from the potentially deadly coronavirus COVID-19.

“As a result, and a matter of safety, the APNU+AFC demands that these vaccines should be put on a hold until the population is given an assurance that what we are dealing is not a bogus transaction and that we are dealing with safe arrangement,” he said. “My concern is that we get the real thing here in Guyana,” he added.

But the Health said, “we are not going to suspend any vaccination using Sputnik. We are proceeding with the use because we have those vaccines in country and we have a lot of people who are pending their second dose. The Sputnik V vaccine is highly effective and efficacious because in the population-based trials, it is at 97 percent.”

Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) is yet to grant Emergency Use Authorisation of Sputnik V,  the Health Minister said Guyana’s Food and Drug Department issued local Emergency Use Authorisation based on usage in Russia where the vaccines are being manufactured.

The Opposition Leader wants the Health Ministry to release the batch numbers of all imported Sputnik V vaccines, and that he would be writing the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) and Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, asking for information about the vaccines that have been shipped to Guyana.  Mr. Harmon also wants details about the country-of-origin, transit stops and storage conditions to ensure that they are safe.

The Health Minister said his ministry would be willing to provide information to the Opposition Leader depending on what he asks for. Dr. Anthony said there is proof that the Sputnik V vaccines that Guyana has bought is authentic and not fake. “There is nothing fake about the vaccine because we have all of the authentic information. We have the batch numbers from the Russians and we have all of the documentation both in Russian and in English pertaining to these vaccines,” he said. Asked if those have been cross-referenced with the manufacturers, he said they don’t normally do so but “we have that option.” He said cross-referencing is not being done by any other country for any of the vaccines. “They are just trying to create an issue where non exists. The key thing is that people should be promoting vaccination but by their action they are taking a blatant opposition to vaccination,” he said.

Both the Opposition Leader and the Health Minister have taken the Russian-made vaccines.

Mr. Harmon said he would not accept responsibility for severe illness or death if, as a result of his call for Guyanese not to take jabs from the batch of 200,000 doses of Sputnik V, fewer Guyanese take them. “That will be on their shoulders, not mine. I am with the people. I am standing them. I have encouraged the people to take the vaccines but I have put a rider, a caveat that this particular batch, we need to have clarity on  that…I would not accept any such labelling or any such responsibility,” he said.

Mr. Harmon says he is not questioning the efficacy of the Sputnik V vaccine, but is wary that that jab has been issued with Emergency Use Authorisation by the Ministry of Health’s Food and Drugs Department instead of the WHO.

Dr. Anthony condemned the call for the suspension of jabs from the batch of 200,000 Sputnik V, saying that would contribute to vaccine hesitancy. “It’s unfortunate that Mr. Harmon would choose to disrupt the vaccination programme by now calling for the discontinuation of this vaccine. It is obvious that he doesn’t have the interest of people at heart because we know that the surest way of defending people against COVID is for them to get vaccination and it is really unfortunate that they have gone down this road,” he said.

Instead of being part of the pro-vaccination campaign, Dr. Anthony called APNU+AFC position “very bizarre” compared to unity against the virus in other countries.