Amid the relentless spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, a tiny glimmer of hope for us in Sri Lanka in combatting this deadly virus is the news that vaccines are likely to arrive in the country towards the end of February with inoculations to begin soon thereafter.
A report published in a weekend newspaper said some 20 million doses would be distributed by India to neighbouring countries in the next two weeks but it was not clear at this stage whether they would be given to Sri Lanka free of charge or if not, how much each of the vaccines would cost and how many would be delivered to Sri Lanka
As of Wednesday morning the Coronavirus cases in Sri Lanka stood at 54,419 with 273 deaths while worldwide the number of reported cases stood at a staggering 96,671,066 with 2,066,788 deaths.
Among the worst affected countries are the United States of America with 24,809,844 coronavirus cases and 411,520 deaths; India with 10,596,442 cases and 152,754 deaths; Brazil with 8,575,742 cases and 211,511 deaths; Russia with 3,633,952 cases and 67,720 deaths and Britain with 3,466,849 cases and 91,470 deaths. In the midst of the ominous gloom overshadowing countries across the world, come the welcome news that many of them have begun inoculating their citizens with priority given to front-line health workers and those most at risk.
The biggest vaccination campaign in history has begun with more than 42.2 million doses administered in 51 countries, according to data collected by US financial network Bloomberg News. The latest rate was roughly 2.43 million doses a day, on average.
According to a state-by-state tally by Bloomberg and data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccinations began in the US on December 14 with healthcare workers and so far 14.3 million shots being given while in the last week an average of 898,410 doses a day were administered.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his speech, at the launch of the all-India rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination drive, is reported to have said, “India is guided by a human-centric approach that will always work towards furthering global good. We have received a request from the Government of Sri Lanka for supplying COVID-19 vaccines. Guided by our ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, requisite steps are being undertaken to ensure its early supply with a view to contain the spread of the pandemic as well as to help in economic revival. Discussions between the two sides towards finalising necessary modalities and relevant decisions are under progress.”
India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar too, during his recent visit to Colombo, said Sri Lanka would be prioritised when the India-produced vaccines were available for distribution.
Be that as it may, the World Health Organization (WHO) said while working together with its partners on the COVID-19 response, such as tracking the pandemic, advising on critical interventions and distributing vital medical supplies to those in need, they are racing to develop and deploy safe and effective vaccines.
The WHO underscored the fact that vaccines save millions of lives each year by training and preparing the body’s immune system to recognize and fight off the targeted viruses and bacteria. If the body is exposed to those disease-causing germs later, the body is ready to destroy them and thus prevent illness.
The WHO said currently more than 50 COVID-19 vaccine candidates were undergoing trials and the WHO was working in collaboration with scientists, businesses, and global health organizations through the ACT Accelerator to speed up the pandemic response. When a safe and effective vaccine is found, COVAX (led by WHO, GAVI and CEPI) will facilitate the equitable access and distribution of these vaccines to protect people in all countries. People most at risk will be prioritized. While we work towards rolling out a safe and effective vaccine, we must continue the essential public health precautions -- the wearing of masks in public, washing of hands, physical distancing and avoiding places where people gather so as to prevent contracting and transmitting the disease.
Sri Lanka too needs a well thought out plan to obtain the most effective vaccines and a proper strategy when administering the vaccines to people with those most vulnerable on the top of the list. Sooner we are able to eradicate this deadly virus the better it is for countries worldwide to return to normal. While saluting the scientists who came up with the COVID-19 vaccines in such a short period, we fervently hope that the rollout of the vaccines would signal the reeling-in of the viral infection.