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Delivery delays force Sri Lanka to put vaccine rollout on hold, officials say

ECONOMYNXT – Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been put on hold until the next consignment of the Indian-manufactured Covishield vaccines arrives in the island on April 10, the national pandemic task force said.

The government has been informed by the Serum Institute of India (SII) that 500,000 doses of Covishield will arrive in Sri Lanka on April 10, a spokesperson for the task force told EconomyNext.

The remaining doses of Covishield already in the country have been reserved to be administered as the second dose starting April 19, for those who already got their first jab, the spokesperson said.

Two consignments of 500,000 each that are due from SII have been delayed. Increased COVID-19 cases in India has been cited as the main reason for the delay.

Sri Lanka’s health authorities maintain that the number of daily cases in the island are on the decline, even as numbers continue to rise in other South Asian countries. However, concerns have been raised that the apparent drop in cases may be merely reflecting a corresponding drop in PCR testing.

Meanwhile, the 600,000 doses of the Sinopharam vaccine donated by the Chinese government will be used to immunise Chinese nationals in Sri Lanka starting next week, officials said.

State Minister of Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID-19 Disease Control Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle said around 4,500 to 5,000 Chinese nationals have been identified for the initial rollout.

Chief Epidemiologist Dr Sudath Samaraweera said the vaccination of Chinese nationals will commence next Monday (05) at four vaccination centers in Colombo, Kandy, Pttalam and Hambantota districts.

If the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) approves the Chinese jab for emergency use in Sri Lanka for locals, Samaraweera said, an expert committee will recommend what age groups in Sri Lanka ought to receive it.

As per research so far, Samaraweera said, people under the age of 18, pregnant women and those witch chronic illnesses will not receive the Chinese-manufactured vaccine.

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“This vaccine, too, must be taken in two doses. The second dose must be given three to four weeks after the first,” he said.

A consignment of 700,000 doses of the Russian manufactured Sputnik V vaccine is also scheduled to arrive in late June, as part of a purchase order made by Sri Lanka for 13 million doses. The remainder is to arrive in August this year, the task force spokesperson said.

The NMRA approved the Russian jab for emergency use on March 18 and the cabinet of ministers subsequently approved a proposal to purchase seven million doses of it for USD 69.65 million. The task force spokesperson said plans are under way to purchase another six million on a later date.

The Sputnik V vaccine is produced by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, a Russian medical-research institute which operates under the purview of the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation. The Russian Direct Investment Fund claims the vaccine to be 95 per cent effective against the virus.

The jab needs to be stored at temperatures between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius (a standard fridge is roughly 3 to 5 degrees). The second dose is required to be administered just 21 days after receiving the first jab. Unusually, the second dose of the Sputnik V vaccine carries a different formula to the first. Both formulae target the coronavirus’s distinctive ‘spike’, but the two doses contain slightly different vectors – the neutralised virus that carries the spike to the body, international media report say.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has yet to approve either Sinopharm or Sputnik V. (Colombo/Apr02/2021)

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