The government’s ongoing vaccination programme, which is the main topic of concern and conversation these days, appears to have hit a snag with the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) sounding alarm bells that it would soon collapse if no proper mechanism was in place.
GMOA Committee Member Dr. Prasad Colombage told a media briefing on Monday that the COVISHIELD vaccination programme was expected to continue smoothly as was seen during its initial phase when frontline workers were inoculated. But some officials appear to have changed course from the government’s policy decisions by vaccinating selected people of their choice instead of those initially targeted as being in the vulnerable category.
He said even Primary Healthcare, Epidemics and COVID-19 Disease Control State Minister Sudarshani Fernandopulle had highlighted the fact that the vaccination programme had violated the laid down procedures resulting in hardships caused to the people, who have given up hopes of receiving the vaccine. In the wake of the chaos and confusion with crowds of anxious people thronging vaccination centres renewing fears of new COVID clusters, Dr. Colombage said the GMOA had called for the efficient implementation of the vaccination programme without leaving room for unscrupulous officials to misuse the inoculation process.
Deputy Director General of Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath said the main reason for various irregularities in the vaccination drive was the pressure applied on health officials by people wielding influence to get themselves and their relatives and friends vaccinated. He said the government had prepared a vaccination plan giving priority to those in the vulnerable category and any attempt to bypass the lists has to be condemned. Dr. Herath said there was no intention to withhold the vaccine from anyone but to ensure that all are safe and safeguarded from the dreaded disease. Weekend media reports quoted State Minister Sudarshini Fernandopulle has saying that top officials at the health ministry had taken snap decisions on the country’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, completely disregarding Ministry-sanctioned recommendations submitted by the relevant technical committee and the sudden appearance of vaccination centres was a result of such rash decisions. She had said that officials even override directives given by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa through the presidential task force appointed to oversee the country’s vaccination drive.
It is against this backdrop that Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake pointed out that the government was using VIP lists instead of the priority lists when dispensing the vaccine. He said the country’s National Vaccine Deployment Plan was prepared to minimise the number of deaths caused by COVID-19 and blamed the government for failing to follow the priority list as finalised by the health authorities. It will do well for the health authorities to be reminded of the truism that no one is safe until everyone is safe. Meanwhile, a matter of grave concern especially to the Muslim community was the government’s mandatory policy of cremating all those who die of the viral infection. Resulting from months of protests and counter protests, the government has now decided to allow either burial or cremation according to the wishes of the next of kin of the victims. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), one of the groups in the forefront of the call for burial said on Friday it was relieved that the Government had finally restored the constitutionally-protected fundamental right of the people for the burial of COVID-19 victims.
“In this regard it is quite obvious that if not for the inclusion of this matter in the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the subsequent inclusion of the matter in the resolution on Sri Lanka tabled by the core group; the deliberate intransigence that resulted in outrageously traumatising a section of Sri Lankans would not have been resolved. The concern raised by the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) during the High-Level Segment and the overwhelming demonstration by almost all the Western States during the Interactive Dialogue on Sri Lanka at the ongoing UNHRC sessions expedited the process,” the SLMC said. However, the Muslim community has decided to appeal to the President and the Prime Minister to change the government-selected burial site of Iranativu Isle, off the Mannar mainland to Kuppiyawatta, in Colombo.
Amid the uncertainty overshadowing the country with regards to the vaccination programme and the burial process of COVID victims and the destruction of our forests, animal habitats and mangroves has left the ordinary people of this country with little hope of looking forward to a better future for themselves and their children.