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Dr Leslie Ramsammy

SHARLENE RAMPERSAD

Dr Leslie Ramsammy, the Guyanese doctor who launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on Thursday says his statements were made on his own behalf and maintains he’s standing by them.

On Thursday, Ramsammy, an advisor to the Ministry of Health in Guyana, sent an opinion piece to Guyanese media houses, labelling Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley as reckless and out of line.

He claimed Dr Rowley insulted Guyana and 74 other countries where the Russian-made Sputnik vaccine is used.

He referred to statements made by Dr Rowley on June 12, where the Prime Minister claimed T&T had the best vaccine programme in the Caricom.

“In defending the vaccine fiasco in his country, Prime Minister Rowley, unwittingly or deliberately, implied that Guyana’s successful vaccination program so far is an illusion because Guyana utilized vaccines not approved for use. He boasted that Trinidad and Tobago has the most vaccine doses already in the country than any other country in CARICOM, except Guyana, but that Guyana’s vaccines do not count since they are not approved,” Ramsammy wrote.

He said the Prime Minister could try to change the narrative of T&T’s vaccine programme but not at Guyana’s expense.

“First of all, at the time Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister stated that Trinidad and Tobago had within their country 234,000 doses of vaccines, Guyana had in our possession 465,000 doses of vaccines, twice the amount of doses that Prime Minister Rowley’s country had,” Ramsammy wrote.

However, he said the number of vaccines was not the important point, as he accused Rowley of questioning the legitimacy of the vaccines being used by Guyana.

“Let me make it clear – all the vaccines in use in Guyana were registered and approved for use by Guyana’s Food and Drug Analyst Department. Those registrations and approvals are not automatic. They are based on a number of considerations and a process Guyana has used for decades. It is the same process that saved thousands of lives when we registered Indian-produced and locally-produced HIV medicines.”

Guardian Media sent questions to Ramsammy via email, asking whether his statements reflect the views of the Guyanese Health Ministry. Ramsammy was also told that T&T’s Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs denied the Prime Minister made the statements attributed to him by Ramsammy.

In his response, Ramsammy said, “I speak on my own behalf. I stand by my statement.”

Guardian Media also sent questions to Guyana’s Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony by sending questions via WhatsApp. Anthony read the questions but up to press time, he had not responded.

The Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) also joined the foray, as it issued a press release slamming Rowley and Guyana’s Opposition Party.

“We also note, with concern, the recent posturing by the Chairman of CARICOM, Dr Keith Rowley, implying that the vaccinations, which are being given to Guyanese, are unsafe. This comes as no surprise as Dr Rowley fulfils his historical trait of demonstrating scant regard for the lives of Guyanese. We find these efforts by the Leader of the Opposition of Guyana and the chairman of CARICOM to be utterly reprehensible, callous and irresponsible and condemn these efforts to score cheap political points,” the Chamber said in a release.

In its response yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs defended the Prime Minister.

The release labelled Ramsammy’s comments as misleading, disrespectful and potentially damaging while calling the Chamber’s comments reprehensible and slanderous.

“The comments and statement attempt to associate Prime Minister Rowley with views which he does not hold and which he has never expressed. It is noteworthy that in his published commentary Dr Ramsammy could offer not one single quotation from the Prime Minister to support his false allegations, nor did Dr Ramsammy offer a shred of evidence to support his misleading claims,” the release stated.

It went on to say that at no time did the Prime Minister disparage Guyana’s vaccine programme nor imply the vaccines being used by its CARICOM neighbour were unsafe.

At the press conference on June 12, the Prime Minister made the following statement after apologising to the nation for the first-come, first-serve vaccine fiasco.

“The only country in CARICOM that has received into its borders, more vaccines than Trinidad and Tobago is Guyana. And the reason for that, is that Guyana took a decision which we did not take, I’ve raised that on this platform before but I’ll raise it again, the Guyana Government took a decision that Trinidad and Tobago did not take and that was early in the proceedings to use vaccines that were not approved by the World Health Organisation. As a result of that, Guyana had a larger volume of vaccines available, we did not participate in that and that explains it. So if one is looking at WHO approved vaccines, it would be clear that Trinidad and Tobago, got within its borders, more vaccines than any other CARICOM country,” the Prime Minister said at that time.

Professor of International Relations at the University of Alberta, Canada, Professor Andy Knight told Guardian Media the entire exchange was uncalled for.

He also said the Prime Minister’s statements about the vaccines used in Guyana were used without the World Health Organisation’s approval was a ‘bit misleading.’

“Those vaccines that Guyana received early in the year were made available through a partnership between the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Thus, while technically one can make the case that these vaccines were not directly approved by WHO (most vaccines around that time were still undergoing trials) the fact is that this first shipment of vaccines to Guyana was delivered with the blessings of PAHO/WHO,” Knight said.

He said if the Prime Minister wanted to make the point that T&T has more vaccines that have technically approved by the WHO, he could have done so without implying that Guyana’s larger amount of vaccine was because some of their vaccine shipments were not technically yet on the WHO’s approved list.

“To me this is an unnecessary argument to make just to prove that ‘we have more WHO-approved vaccines than the other guy.’ It’s undiplomatic. It’s unnecessary. Even the officials at WHO would recognize that back in January 2021 Guyana did the right thing to procure as many COVID-19 vaccines as possible to try to stop the spread of the pandemic,” Knight said.

Knight said he hopes the ‘undiplomatic’ exchange will not hurt relations between the two countries.