ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will likely receive the first batch of a government-approved COVID-19 vaccine within the next three months and plans are underway to vaccinate all citizens free of charge, Chief Epidemiologist Dr Sudath Samaraweera said.
“We have to administer two doses of whichever vaccine we acquire per person within a period of four weeks. We are planning to provide the vaccine free of charge to all the citizens,” he told EconomyNext this afternoon.
The Pfizer-BionTech vaccine manufactured in the US costs around USD 20 US per dose, while the Oxford-AntraZeneca vaccine costs USD 3 per dose. Sri Lanka has yet to decide which vaccine to get, but chief presidential Lalith Weeratunga told a private TV station yesterday that Sri Lanka will most likely opt for the Oxford-AntraZeneca vaccine.
Meanwhile, health officials plan to finalise a proposal outlining the country’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy today in order to meet a January 15 submission deadline for COVAX, Health Ministry Additional Secretary (Public Health Services) Dr Lakshmi Somatunga said.
Somatunga told EconomyNext that the government plans to finalise the proposal drafted by Sri Lanka’s newly appointed vaccination task force at some point today as tomorrow (14) is a public holiday in the country.
Discussions will be held in this regard today with the Committee on Communicable Diseases whose approval is needed to bring a vaccine into the country.
“We are not submitting the strategy proposal to the World Health Organisation (WHO), but to COVAX [directly] ,” said Samaratunga.
COVAX, a global initiative spearheaded by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), aims to equitably cover 20 percent of a signatory nation’s vaccine needs, irrespective of income level. Some 190 countries have signed up for the programme, including wealthy nations such as the UK and Canada.
Sri Lanka joined the facility last year. The country signed part two of the agreement with the WHO last week and is now eligible to receive a limited quantity of the vaccine in the first quarter of 2021. Weeratunga, who also heads the vaccination task force, said frontline workers in health, military and other sectors, people over the age of 60 with non-communicable diseases and select individuals between 50 to 59 years of age that are deemed important to the smooth functioning of the economy will be among 20% of Sri Lankans who will receive a COVID-19 vaccine under COVAX.
He said 155,000 frontline healthcare workers, 127,500 military personnel, 3,159,800 patients of non-communicable diseases over the age of 60 and 1,178,154 people between 55 to 59 years of age have been identified as being eligible for vaccination.
“In total, all categories amount to 20.43 percent of the population,” he said.
To obtain the vaccine through the COVAX facility, both the manufacturer and buyer should register with COVAX, and so far it is only the Pfizer-BionTech vaccine that’s officially registered with the programme. Outside of the COVAX 20 per cent, Sri Lanka will likely bring down the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to vaccinate the population at large.
“It has a success rate of 75-90 percent depending on the age and health condition of the patient according to initial tests,” said Weeratunga.
The Pfizer-BionTech vaccine manufactured in the US is difficult to handle in Sri Lanka, he said, due to a lack of cold chain facilities. The vaccine needs to be stored and transported in -70 degrees Celsius.
“The Oxford vaccine is now being produced in India. The president plans to hold discussions with Indian officials on possible ways to get the necessary quantity for the country,” he said.
COVAX has raised UDS 2 billion and has put out a call to countries and philanthropists for another USD 5 billion.
Countries must submit vaccine request applications under two phases to receive the vaccine facility and the first part which included information regarding the target group, storage capacity and technical information had to be submitted before December 7. (Colombo/ Jan 13/2021)