See below for a statement from Health Adviser, Dr Leslie Ramsammy:
There are more than 100 fixed-site vaccination centers in Guyana where people can get their COVID-19 vaccines. These sites are open daily. There are also some outreach sites that individuals and groups have organized. These sites are temporary, usually lasting a day. There are three conditions for the MOH to send teams to these sites – first, the number of people to be vaccinated must make sense for the Ministry to send a dedicated team for a day; secondly, residents in the community are not prevented from receiving vaccines on the grounds of religion, politics or any other factor and, thirdly, the individuals meet the eligibility requirement. Currently eligibility is based on age only – 40 years and over.
With due respect to Swami Aksharnanda, I think his letter published in the newspaper was unfortunate and misrepresented the facts. The COVID-19 vaccines are given to people resident in Guyana nationwide, per person. As stated previously, there are currently more than one hundred (100) fixed site locations for which vaccines are given daily. All these fixed sites are government health centers or hospitals. None of the fixed sites are in any private facility or any masjid, no mandir or any church.
The MOH has encouraged faith leaders, political leaders, NGOs, businesses etc. to help encourage vaccination. Mostly, community leaders have come together to organize people in their communities. Sometimes they assemble people in a school, at other times in a masjid, at other times in a mandir and at other times in a Christian church. None of these sites are vaccinated on the basis of religion. I personally have been to many of these websites. I will continue to visit these websites. To vaccinate people, we go wherever we are invited. What we will not do is a vaccination exercise where vaccines are provided for a specific group only, based on religion or politics or some other factor.
We used this model before, for blood drives, where we have gone to churches, madmen, masjids. and the blood drives were never restricted to persons of one religion only, even if the drive took place in a particular church, or madir, or masjid. The Swami knows this well. Our people are among the most tolerant in the world of each other’s religion and we share each other’s religious events and space for many decades. I have been honored and privileged for decades working in solidarity with our religious leaders. Every day, I sit with these leaders in the same room in various communities and we work together without any hostility or tension. The vaccine is important to people, not what site they are getting it from.
CIOG, Dharmic Sabha, the Presbyterian Church and many pastors have worked with us so far. Yesterday, the Canefield / Enterprise NDC held a vaccination day. The CDC advisers, imams, pandits and ministers got together and organized the event. The original suggestion from the community was that the event should be held at a leisure center across the CDC. But the technical persons suggested that it was too small to accommodate the number of people expected. The recommendation among the community people was that the ideal place was the Veda Dharmic Center. Almost two hundred people were vaccinated yesterday at that center – they were Christians, HIndus, and Muslims. It didn’t matter about the site, what was important was that these people had the opportunity to have a vaccine.
Two weeks ago, the SDC organized a similar outreach Success. They chose the masjid at Success as the most suitable site. Two weeks ago also the CIOG held a vaccination event for North Georgetown residents. Most of the people were not Muslims. The Kendra Dharmic Sabha Center conducted a vaccination outreach last Saturday. Many people were from different religious backgrounds. The NDC # 52- # 74 has organized vaccination outreach. I met them yesterday, siblings, who were Muslims, Hindus, Christians, working together to ensure that those 40 and older in their community were fully vaccinated. They chose a Christian Church as the most suitable location.
At this time, we need practically everyone. It is unfortunate that religion has gone into the process we developed in introducing the vaccine. I hope the Swami, on second thought, would see that we are trying to reach everyone far from favoring one group or another. I invite him to join us to ensure that individuals who reach eligibility come forward to receive their vaccines. The vaccines provided from government fixed sites are no better than the vaccines at outreach sites – whether these are schools, business premises, Masjid, Mandir or Church.