GUYANA: Harmon called out for “reckless” claims about ‘fake’ COVID-19 vaccines

Opposition Leader, Joseph Harmon.

Jun 18, 2021 – Kaieteur News – Opposition Leader, Joseph Harmon, was yesterday called out for his claims of possible fake COVID-19 vaccines after he sought to lambaste the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government over their acquisition of doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine to prevent the spread of the deadly COVID-19 in Guyana. He had also urged for a hold to be put on vaccines despite being fully immunised himself.

During a live aired press briefing yesterday, Harmon called into question the use of the vaccine on the basis that it was not approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and called for halt in the use of Sputnik V in the public immunisation process. His claims have been called into question by citizens and President, Irfaan Ali, who called him out for his irresponsible and reckless claims.         

President, Irfaan Ali.

At the press conference, the Opposition Leader, among other things, cited articles from Reuters international news agency which reported on a discovery of a fake batch of the vaccines in Mexico earlier this year. In the face of a barrage of questions over the unconfirmed claims that Guyana may have received a fake supply of the vaccines and the fact that he himself has been fully vaccinated with Sputnik V, Harmon remained adamant that the authenticity of the vaccines could not trusted since it was sourced from a middle man supplier in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“The PPP has placed the lives of thousands of Guyanese at risk by purchasing vaccine from a middle man at the exorbitant price and kept this a secret from Guyanese people until recently…” Harmon said

Alluding to revelations on the purchase of the vaccines made in the National Assembly earlier, this week, Harmon noted that transaction made to supply Guyana with 200,000 doses of Sputnik V vaccines smacks of “corruption and racketeering.”
Harmon emphasised that given that the vaccines were purchased from a UAE supplier, Sheik Ahmed Dalmook Al-Maktoum, who has been linked to a convicted fraudster, the authenticity of the goods should be brought into question. Harmon also stressed on the “excessive” $600M expenditure on the vaccines purchased without any approval of the Opposition.

“The matter of the vaccine purchase is now a health safety matter for all citizens, as well as a public health concern. As such, we demand that the Ministry of Health provide us with the batch numbers purchased from this Sheik Al-Maktoum, the details of the shipping, transshipment and all importation documents for the said batches brought into countries where the vaccines were stored,” he told the news conference.

Harmon’s Facebook post claiming 200,000 fake vaccines being found in Mexico.

Additionally, Harmon claimed that since Sputnik V has not been approved by WHO and is still awaiting emergency use authorisation, it should not be given the clearance to be used in the country.

“The clearance to use Sputnik V in Guyana comes from authorisation from the Government Analyst Food and Drug Department, a unit under the Ministry of Health, which I don’t believe has the capability to approve the usage of such vaccines.”

“As a result and for a matter of safety, the APNU+AFC demands that these vaccines be put on a hold until the population is given assurance that what we are dealing with is not a bogus transaction and that we are dealing with a safe arrangement.”

Further, Harmon quoted extensively from a report in Reuters dated 16 March 2021, which he said bears a striking similarity of what is happening in here in Guyana.

According to Harmon, the article pointed out to an instance where the authorities in Mexico seized a batch of fake doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

Quoting directly from Reuters, Harmon noted that “the first shipment of the Sputnik V vaccine – a delivery of 200,000 doses – arrived in Mexico on February 23. It was approved for emergency use by Mexican regulators earlier last month.”
Added to this, the Opposition Leader in a message on his Facebook page calling for a suspension of the use of the vaccine noted that a batch of “200,000 fake Sputnik V vaccines” was discovered in Mexico.

However, Kaieteur News noted that the same Reuters article, published since March, quoted from said that the fake batch Harmon referenced was only 5,775 doses and was seized at Campeche International Airport in Mexico en route by private plane to Honduras almost one month after the authentic 200,000 doses of Sputnik was shipped to Mexico.

Sputnik Map: Shaded areas represent the countries that approved Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 or have shown interest in obtaining the vaccine.

Since last year, over 70 countries have approved the use of Sputnik V or have shown interest in obtaining the vaccine for use. Additionally, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on May 27 signed a deal with the Russian Direct Investment Fund for the use of Sputnik V vaccines.

Harmon said that unless the PPP can provide assurance that the vaccines are authentic then their use should be suspended. Earlier at the press conference, the Opposition Leader was asked to comment the fact that he himself was administered both doses of the Sputnik V vaccines. He told reporters that at the time he was under the impression that the vaccines were WHO-approved, and that is why he took it. Pressed on the fact that the Ministry of Health had announced that the Sputnik V was approved for use by the Government Analyst Food and Drug Department, Harmon said that he may have missed that announcement.

“At this point, my only concern is that there are concerns internationally about fake vaccines and what I am looking at right now, is that we get the real thing here in Guyana,” he said.

Asked whether his comments about fake vaccines could be seen as irresponsible and would prompt further vaccine hesitancy by Guyanese, Harmon said that he is not discouraging persons to get vaccinated.

“I stand by my statement…” he responded, “There are issues now casting doubt on the entire process. I repeat that call it is not about all vaccines but the 200,000 vaccines that came from the middle man in the UAE…We need to know that it came directly from Russia.”

Meanwhile, in a public response to Harmon, President, Irfaan Ali, called on Guyanese to disregard what he referred to as the Opposition Leader’s “reckless and irresponsible” claims.

“There are thousands of Guyanese who took the vaccines and there is no realistic link about the fake vaccines. If one is to examine the statement from Mr. Harmon persuading Guyanese not to take the Sputnik V vaccine, you will find it to be self-serving, shamelessly, reckless and against the interest of Guyana and Guyanese,” President Ali said, adding that “This is a man, who himself took the Sputnik V vaccine.”

“How selfless can you be to use a statement to put the lives of Guyanese families and communities at risk?”
The President noted the procurement of Sputnik V vaccines is in keeping with his promise to help the population to flatten the COVID-19 curve and return to normalcy.

“I said months ago, that we will explore every avenue available to us to reduce the COVID-19 curve and return Guyana to normalcy. My position will not change. Every single manufacturer, from every single country, whether it was Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, Astra Zeneca, Sputnik V, we tried. We tried countries directly and manufacturers, we continue to try every country for vaccines to protect the lives of Guyanese,” he added. The President said too that the purchase of the vaccine was announced very early.

“It is no secret… I announced early that we were getting the Sputnik V at US$20 per dose because there is no cost in comparison to lives of Guyanese. Let me assure Guyanese that more than 74 countries across the world are using Sputnik…”

President Ali noted too that countries across the globe have been using vaccines available in Guyana prior to the approval from the WHO. “The UK used Astra Zeneca before WHO’s approval. Countries are fighting desperately to get these vaccines; these vaccines are not easily procured. We have tried every single measure and for Mr. Harmon to try to discredit those efforts and for Mr. Harmon to try to dissuade Guyanese at this important public health juncture of our country is reckless and shameful.”

The President said too that “every single shipment of Sputnik V comes with batch number and serial number and before it is administered it has to comply fully with the local regulatory system.”

“I implore every Guyanese not to fall prey to the political selflessness of Harmon and his self-serving interests. Vaccination is an essential part of the struggle to protect you from COVID-19. Please get vaccinated,” Ali said.

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