President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's senior advisor, Lalith Weeratunga who has been appointed to chair the Presidential Task Force to oversee COVID-19 vaccinations said today that no Sri Lankan citizen will be forced to vaccinate themselves once the vials arrive in the country, starting tomorrow, and for the coming nine months the vaccines would be provided to every individual free of charge.
Speaking to journalists in a special media briefing, Weeratunga said that the vaccinations would not be compulsory but would be provided on a voluntary basis as all vaccines were being distributed only on an emergency basis.
Those being vaccinated will have to fill a consent form before receiving the jab.
At any given time, if those who are reluctant to receive the vaccines change their mind, they will be able to receive the vaccinations in their allocated health care centers.
Tomorrow, 500,000 vials of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines will arrive in Sri Lanka on an Air India flight which will be donated to Sri Lanka's Health Ministry by the Indian government.
The donation will be handed over by India's High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Gopal Baglay once it arrives at 11 am at the Bandaranaike International Airport and upon its arrival will be distributed to all the districts through special freezer trucks.
Under this program, 250,000 critical front line workers will begin receiving the jab by Friday which will be strictly monitored by the health care workers.
In the vaccination centers which have been set up, aftercare services have also been arranged, such as emergency medication and beds, in case any individual suffers from any side effects.
Each of the 250,000 identified front line workers will receive a second jab after four weeks, to complete the dosage.
Weeratunga said that the Oxford AstraZeneca, manufactured by the Serum Institute in India had been approved for emergency use by the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) and the government and the health ministry took complete responsibility for it. He said the government had exerted no pressure on the NMRA to release the results soon nor had it attempted to influence it in any way.
The government has initially identified critical front line workers who will receive the jabs followed by the tri forces and the police.
In the third group, all those above the age of 60 years will be encouraged to be vaccinated as well as those suffering from core mobilities such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease etc.
The working group has been allocated in the fourth group.
Health authorities will use the statistics from the National Elections Commission to list the people, and those not on the electoral list will be informed to fill a form which will be published in the newspapers once the vaccines are ready. They will be able to send their details through electronic methods or an sms service, which will be set up in each area.
Initially only Sri Lankan nationals will be eligible to be vaccinated and not residence visa holders or foreign nationals but once enough vaccines are received, they will be included in the list as well. The government will take it step by step, Weeratunga said.
Meanwhile the government has also placed an order for 3 million doses of the Oxford Astra Zeneca from the Serum Institute in India since it has been approved by the NMRA for emergency use in the country. Sri Lanka is now on the waiting list to purchase these doses. Further, on a request by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, China has agreed to donate 300,000 Sinopharm vaccines to the Health Ministry which, once approved by the NMRA for emergency use, will also arrive in the country.
President Rajapaksa has also requested Russian President Vladimir Putin for Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, which is also being tested by the NMRA and is yet to be approved.
Weeratunga said the vaccines will be given free of charge to each individual for atleast the coming 6 to 9 months and not a penny would be charged. The government aimed to vaccinate at least 70% of the target groups within this year, or even sooner, depending on how soon Sri Lanka receives the vaccines. (JAMILA HUSAIN)