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Vaccines: A new phase in battle against COVID-19

4 February 2021 03:17 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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In the wake of the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Sri Lanka, currently recording a daily average of nearly 800 during the past few days and the COVID-related death toll rising to 330 as of Wednesday afternoon, the news that some 500,000 vials of the anti-COVID vaccines had arrived in the country last Thursday and that the government’s vaccination programme had got underway would have definitely gladdened the hearts of all Sri Lankans and welcomed with a deep sense of relief. 

The stock of COVISHIELD vaccines, so generously donated by the Indian government, was handed over to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa by Indian High Commissioner Gopal Baglay soon after an Air India flight had air-lifted the vaccines from the Serum Institute on Duruthu Poya Day under India’s ‘VaccineMaithri’ initiative. 


The vaccination programme was symbolically set in motion at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) in Angoda with senior Consultant Physician Dr. Ananda Wijewickrama being the first to be inoculated. It was followed by the inoculation of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers and military and police personnel, who are in the frontline of the war against the deadly virus. The vaccines would be then be administered to others according to the already prepared priority list of recipients such as those most at risk and the elderly, who could request to be vaccinated with none forced or pressured to do so against his or her wishes.


The vaccine known in Britain as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (vaccine AZD1222) and developed by the Oxford University-AstraZeneca pharmaceutical company is being manufactured as COVISHIELD under license by the Serum Institute at its factory in Pune. It is a two-dose vaccine given four weeks apart as an intramuscular injection.


COVAX is a global initiative which works with vaccine manufacturers to provide countries worldwide equitable access to safe and effective vaccines once they are approved and licensed. It is co-led by GAVI (the Vaccine Alliance), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Be that as it may, a BBC report on Wednesday said the impact of COVID vaccines on transmission has been a crucial unknown that will dramatically shape the future of the pandemic. The study, carried out by the University of Oxford, though not formally published, also showed that the vaccine remained effective while people waited for a second dose and that it was 76% effective during the three months after the first shot.


According to the report if a vaccine only stops you getting severely ill, but you can still catch and pass on the virus; then everyone will need to be immunised to be protected. But if it also stops you spreading the virus then it would have a far greater impact on the pandemic as each person who is vaccinated indirectly protects other people too.
“The data indicate that [the vaccine] may have a substantial impact on transmission by reducing the number of infected individuals in the population,” the report said.


This study -- on 17,000 people in Britain, South Africa and Brazil – has showed protection remained at 76% during the three months after the first dose rose to 82% after people were given the second dose, the BBC report said.
Meanwhile, Lalith Weerathunga, who Heads the Presidential Task Force on Vaccines told a news briefing last week that the government and the Health Ministry would take the full responsibility with regard to administering this vaccine because the benefits outweigh any risks with COVISHIELD being the first step towards immunizing the people.


He said if Russia’s Sputnik-V and China’s Sinopharm vaccines were approved based on data generated from clinical trials, then Sri Lanka would have the benefit of a combination of vaccines and added that at least 50 to 60% of the listed target group could be vaccinated within the course of the year. 


Amid all the good news came the announcement by the health authorities of the first Sri Lankan doctor to die of COVID-related complications while undergoing treatment at the Karapitiya Hospital. The 32-year-old Dr. Gayan Danthanarayana was a resident of Hinkanda in Ragama and reported to have contracted the disease while working at the Ragama Hospital.


There is no gainsaying the fact that the task of vaccinating at least 50 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population will be an enormous undertaking for the Sri Lankan government and its health authorities and we hope that before long the private sector hospitals too would be allowed to participate in the vaccination programme so that a wider segment of society could be vaccinated in a truly national effort.

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