ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is likely to begin vaccinating “select citizens” against Covid 19 in early February, probably on Independence Day with the Indian Serum Institute produced vaccine which is a version of the so-called Oxford Vaccine, highly-placed sources told EconomyNext.
This will be with the doses India has announced it will begin to distribute to its neighbours in the coming week as part of its “vaccine diplomacy.”
The first people to get the vaccine are likely to be Sri Lankan Members of Parliament and frontline Healthcare workers, the source said.
The Times of India has reported that the first destinations would be in India’s immediate neighbourhood, like Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Maldives and Mauritius to help them kickstart their own vaccination processes against the coronavirus.
The first shipments would be a goodwill gesture, while subsequently, the countries concerned would get on a payment basis from either the Serum Institute or Bharat Biotech the Times said.
The Serum Institute product is called COVISHIELD and is a derivative of the AstraZeneca Oxford Vaccine developed under license in India. Our giant neighbour is also ready to ship vaccines developed through its own research institute Bharat Biotech, a state-run research body.
Several countries such as badly hit Brazil have opted for that product although final testing is yet to be done.
India’s Foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar promised Sri Lanka, India would make vaccines available to them too on his recent visit to Colombo when he met with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.
This set of vaccines are not among the vaccines intended for the first most vulnerable twenty per cent of the population that Sri Lanka will receive free of charge through the World Health Organisation sponsored COVAX program.
India started its own vaccination program two days ago with nearly 200,000 people getting the jab free of charge.
Nepal is the latest to ask for Covid vaccines from the government. Myanmar government declared they had signed up with Serum Institute for vaccines as has Bangladesh, the Times reported.
Indian Government sources told the Times countries would not be charged much more than Indians are paying for the vaccines even when they do have to pay for the doses. The key is to ensure that India has enough for its own needs before allowing exports of these vaccines.
Foreign countries can draw up purchase deals with the two companies concerned, but officials said these are generally being done between government health entities and the companies.
Brazil’s Fiocruz Institute has signed a deal with Serum Institute. So have other countries — UAE, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, South Africa among others. The only catch is, they need export clearance from the Indian government first the Times report added.
The decision is being undertaken by the Indian inter-ministerial body, National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC), which includes the foreign secretary, and headed by VK Paul of Niti Aayog.
There has been some confusion on that front, particularly with Brazil, which was prepared to send an aircraft to pick up 2 million vaccine doses. The government had to put the brakes on that since vaccines had not been rolled out for Indians yet. So Brazil will get its first lot of vaccines from India, but possibly after the neighbours, a miscommunication that could have been avoided if, sources said, there was clarity in communications between the government and Serum Institute.
Brazil has also ordered vaccines from Bharat Biotech, which is yet to come out with its efficacy data after the phase 3 trials, but the purchase has been cleared by the Brazilian government. (Colombo, January 19, 2021)
Reported by Arjuna Ranawana