As Guyana, like many other countries around the world, eagerly awaits the COVID-19 vaccine, President Irfaan Ali has called on the United Nations (UN) to remain on the forefront of the rollout of the mass immunisation to developing countries.
He made this plea on Thursday during his virtual address to the 31st Special Session of the UN General Assembly, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Guyanese Head of State lauded the efforts made by the United Nations in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, particularly the UN’s humanitarian and socio-economic response and its ongoing efforts for a post-COVID-19 Recovery Plan.
“This 31st Special Session comes at a time when the world eagerly awaits the authorisation of vaccines which have been developed to help in the public health fight against the coronavirus. The United Nations must continue to be in the forefront – as it has been over the past eight months – in piloting the international rollout of mass immunisation for developing countries,” President Ali posited.
Guyana has been identified as one of the countries eligible for coverage under COVAX, a body of organisations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), that would ensure there is equal access to COVID-19 vaccines, and distribution of same when it becomes available on the market.
Earlier this week, the United Kingdom became the first country to approve the use of the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, thus paving the way for mass immunisation.
The vaccine, which had undergone a gauntlet of clinical trials and is said to be 95 per cent effective against the coronavirus, is a two-dose injection. After the first dose has been administered, the second dose is given 21 days later, and acts as a booster.
According to international reports, immunity kicks in after the first dose, but reaches its full effect around seven days after the second dose. It was reported that the side effects are very mild and similar to that of other vaccines, lasting for about a day.
Meanwhile, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, which has also developed another coronavirus vaccine with a 94.1 per cent efficacy, have both filed for US emergency regulatory approval. Those hearings are slated for the coming weeks.
WHO, UNICEF, Gavi (the Vaccine Alliance) and other partners are currently working together to help prepare countries to be ready to introduce the COVID-19 vaccines, which is likely to become available for distribution in early to mid-2021. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said adaptable guidance, tools, training, and advocacy materials are being developed to support countries in their preparation.
Already, Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony has disclosed that preparations have commenced locally to facilitate the COVID-19 vaccine whenever it becomes available, in order to allow for a smooth and swift rollout process.
“We have to train our healthcare staff to be able to administer the vaccine, so we have started the preparatory work for that training, developing the manuals for training and so forth,” the Minister said recently, adding that the training is expected to begin within a couple of weeks.
Moreover, he disclosed that efforts are underway to acquire proper storage units for when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available. The Pfizer vaccine requires very cold storage – minus 70 degrees – while Moderna can be stored in regular home refrigeration temperatures.
“That can create some logistical challenges for the people doing the immunisation, so we are improving our cold storage, expanding that cold storage. In some cases, we have to add new storage rooms and things like that,” Dr Anthony said.
Through COVAX, Guyana is set to receive 20 per cent of the COVID-19 vaccine needed, with the first three per cent to be given to frontline workers and high-risk patients.
As at Thursday, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Guyana was 5,528, of which 759 are currently active cases, while the death toll from the pandemic is 151 and recoveries stand at 4,618.
Meanwhile, President Ali, during his address at Thursday’s Special Session, said the United Nations’ efforts on the forefront to help countries mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic represent one of history’s greatest rescue missions, as the body demonstrates the efficiency and necessity of global cooperation.
He went on to note that the pandemic has presented difficulties for all segments of society, particularly children – most of whom have been out of school for months and their normal childhood routines have been constricted.
Ali posited that Guyana recognises the impact the pandemic has had on children, hence it is supporting UNICEF’s Six-Point Plan which provides a response aimed at ensuring children are protected and are catered for in the global recovery efforts which would follow the remission of this pandemic.
To this end, the President committed to have Guyana: ensure its children are able to continue to learn by closing the national digital divide; enable improved primary health care and access to vaccination by children; eradicate child poverty; effect, where necessary, mental health-support interventions for children and young people; enact greater protections and support-measures for vulnerable children; and encourage access to improved water, hygiene and sanitation.
According to the Head of State, the pandemic has underscored the need for change in global relations, and he has endorsed the UN Secretary General’s call for a New Global Deal with a New Social Contract.
He reminded of his remarks to the Meeting of Heads of Government and States on Financing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond, when he had pointed out that a New Global Deal would allow for the effective transfer of resources – financial, intellectual and technological – to developing countries, and also facilitate a fairer sharing of the benefits of globalisation.
“A new social contract will guarantee the more effective use of these resources for sustainable development. A new era will soon be upon us. The world looks forward to beating this pandemic and hastening international recovery. This process will be made easier by the ushering in of a new era in global relations, one which will herald the magnificence of multilateralism, spearheaded by the United Nations,” the Guyanese President told the UN General Assembly.