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China gifts 600,000 doses of Sinopharm jab to Sri Lanka; Chinese workers first in line

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa accepting the donation at the BIA today – Image credit: @GotabayaR/Twitter

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka received 600,000 doses of the Chinese donated Sinopharm vaccine today, some of which will be used to vaccinate Chinese nationals employed in the country starting next week, an official said.

Chief Epidemiologist Dr Sudath Samaraweera told EconomyNext that the consignment has been transported from the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) to the health ministry’s central storage facilities.

“As per the Chinese government’s request, we will first vaccinate Chinese workers in Sri Lanka, most likely starting next week,” he said.

However, said Samaraweera, the exact number of the Chinese nationals working in the island cannot be determined at the moment.

On March 20, the National Medicine Regulatory Authority (NMRA) approved a decision to bring the donated vaccine into the country and to immunise Chinese nationals with it, though the regulatory body has yet to authorise it for use on Sri Lankan citizens. The World Health Organisation (WHO), too, has yet to approve the jab for emergency use.

In an earlier interview Chief Executive Officer of NMRA doctor Kamal Jayasinghe said around 30,000 Chinese workers have requested vaccination in Sri Lanka.

Co-cabinet spokesman Minister Ramesh Pathirana said yesterday that pending WHO approval for emergency use, the health ministry will use the remaining doses of the donated Sinopharm vaccine to immunise the general public.

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“The NMRA only gave approval to vaccinate Chinese workers in Sri Lanka with this vaccine,” Pathirana told reporters at the weekly cabinet press briefing yesterday. The minister did not explain how long the health ministry intends to store the vials until WHO approves the jab.

Meanwhile, the Association of Medical Specialists (AMS) issuing a statement yesterday said, according to the NMRA report published on March 17, due to the insufficient data provided to make a decision about the safety, efficacy and immunogenicity of the Sinopharm vaccine it was decided to not to approve the vaccine for emergency use in Sri Lanka under the present circumstances.

“Despite this clear recommendation of a properly-constituted independent expert advisory panel, we are concerned about reports that a newly reconstituted Board of the NMRA appears to have taken an unprecedented step to disregard the expert panel opinion and allowed the import of the said vaccine to be used in Sri Lankans [sic],” President of the AMS Doctor Lalantha Ranasinghe said in the statement.

“We also note with great anxiety and dismay of certain arbitrary appointments and removals being made to the Board of NMRA. We strongly believe such moves as an attempt to undermine the scientific basis of vaccine approval and hence it’s safety, efficacy and acceptance by the general public,” he added.

Dr Ranasinghe was referring to a controversial removal of NMRA board members over the vaccine issue.

Pathirana, meanwhile, claimed that WHO approval has delayed due to a translation issue.

“It is said some translation issue has occurred since all data documents are in Chinese. As soon as they translate it to English and give their approval, it will be possible to administer the Sinopharm vaccine to Sri Lankans as well,” he said.

Pathirana’s remark about translation issues could not be independently verified, but a perusal of WHO documents showed that the Chinese vaccine may be approved for emergency use in early April.

“We will look for the most eligible community to receive the jab and will take necessary steps to vaccinate them,” Smaraweera told EconomyNext yesterday.

He noted, however, that NMRA approval for emergency use of the vaccine will need to be obtained, in addition to a number of other processes that must be completed, prior to administering it. (Colombo/Mar31/2021)

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