Around the world, governments are gearing up to roll out nationwide immunization campaigns. Others are scrambling to procure more doses of the vaccine for their citizens. Sri Lanka however, is yet to decide on the type of vaccine or vaccines that would be the most suitable to protect our citizens.
Responding to a questioned raised in Parliament by MP Upul Galappaththi yesterday, Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi briefed the lawmakers on Sri Lanka’s strategy when it comes to procuring the vaccines.
“There is an established procedure in Sri Lanka for the introduction of immunization programmes,” the Health Minister said referring to the National Immunization Programme of Sri Lanka. She said the programme, which has been implemented to prioritize vaccine-preventable diseases in the country has an excellent record.
"The Sri Lankan government on August 13, 2020 requested support for vaccine procurement from COVAX, vaccination arm of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator of the World Health Organisation"
“According to the extraordinary gazette dated December 29, 2015, immunization programmes introduced to the country are carried out through immunization schedules approved by the National Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases (NACCD) of the Ministry of Health. The Committee is chaired by the Director General of Health Services and this committee is presently analysing all the COVID-19 vaccines which have been developed thus far,” the minister said.
She said the Health Ministry meanwhile, had appointed several other committees including sub-committees to assist in this evaluation process. These committees would also be looking at the logistics such as refrigeration storage facilities, cost estimates and other provisions.
“They would have to evaluate which vaccine or vaccines would be most suitable for Sri Lanka, examining prior research, success and side effects of vaccines as well as regulatory approvals granted by various bodies,” the minister said.
The Sri Lankan government on August 13, 2020 requested support for vaccine procurement from COVAX, the vaccination arm of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The Health Minister noted that the Sri Lankan government’s request has been successful adding that 20% of Sri Lanka’s population of high priority groups would receive the vaccine through this method.
"The Committee headed by the Director General of Health Services and this committee is presently analysing all the COVID-19 vaccines which have been developed thus far"
When asked about immunization plans for the remainder of the population Minister Wanniarachchi said the government was in discussions with several countries and organisations to meet these needs. “Once the expert committee recommends a vaccine or vaccines suitable for Sri Lanka, the government will procure them,” she said. “Targeted vaccine groups, places of immunization, refrigeration, regulation, analysis of side-effects post vaccination, all of these aspects are currently being examined in the Vaccine Deployment Plan the committee is drawing at present.”
The minister said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has appointed Lalith Weeratunga as an envoy to initiate several state-level discussions with other countries and organisations to address our vaccine needs and he was currently holding such discussions with several countries to get us the vaccine.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka has sought assistance from India to access the vaccine, as confirmed by India’s External Affairs Minister during his ongoing visit to Sri Lanka.
"TTargeted vaccine groups, places of immunization, refrigeration, regulation, analysis of side-effects post vaccination, all of these aspects are currently being examined in the Vaccine Deployment Plan"
THE DECISION: WHO GOES FIRST?
Most countries are making the vaccines free for all its citizens, with priority given to front-line personnel, healthcare workers, the elderly and other vulnerable people before the rest of the population. The World Health Organisation and other global regulators have cleared Pfizer/ BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use, while the Moderna vaccine is inching closer to gaining regulatory approval. Other experimental vaccines meanwhile are inching closer to the finish line.
As most vaccine developers are from the Western World, most Asian and developing countries are expected to receive fewer amounts of the vaccines.
"Immunization programmes introduced to the country are carried out through immunization schedules approved by the National Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases (NACCD) of the Ministry of Health"
Experts have also pointed out that economically powerful countries are likely to get hold of the precious commodities first, prompting the 20% allocation of COVAX vaccines sponsored by the WHO.
However, once countries receive the vaccine or have approved a vaccine, the strategy to jab each of these countries’ citizens have varied. For instance, India where the second highest number of infections was recorded, it is eyeing around 10 million of its citizens with co-morbidities to receive the first jab. India’s immunization programme, the largest in the world, plans to inoculate some 300 million people by mid 2021. In an unusual rollout of the vaccine Indonesia decided to prioritize its young and working-age population by immunizing the young, before the elderly. Meanwhile, Malaysia has only focused on injecting the drug to adults, as the vaccines are still largely experimental and are yet to be tested on children under the age of 12.