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Health Ministry officials going rogue with vaccination rollout: Sudarshini

State Minister Dr Sudharshini Fernandopulle gets her appointment from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa/PMD handout

ECONOMYNEXT – Top officials at Sri Lanka’s health ministry have taken snap decisions on the country’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in complete disregard of Ministry-sanctioned recommendations made by a technical committee, State Minister Sudarshini Fernandopulle said.

The sudden appearance of vaccination centres was a result of such rash decisions, she said.

The State Minister of Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control told reporters yesterday that these officials even override directives given by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa through the presidential task force appointed to oversee the country’s vaccination drive.

“When decisions have already been made [regarding the rollout timetable], these officials suddenly call at night and say start the programme right away. We can’t do it this way,” she said.

Explaining the process, Fernandopulle said local Medical Officers of Health (MOH) in consultation with Grama Niladharis need to first inform the public well in advance. When that process is already underway, decisions are changed with one phone call, she complained.

According to Fernandopulle, the Health Ministry has yet to send an official guidelines on COVID-19 vaccination to MOH offices

The offending officials who make these ad-hoc decisions in the Health Ministry, she said, do not have a thorough understanding of public health but are nevertheless responsible for their actions.

“Even though the COVID-19 prevention portfolio was assigned to me, I’m not always aware of some of the meetings that are taking place nor about the decisions reached at those meetings,” she said.

“We also need to follow up on any side effects and then plan for the second dose,” she added.

Immunisation programmes that were carried out by the Health Ministry in the past, Fernandopulle said, were also rife with communication issues and ad hoc decisions.

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According to the state minister, the president has instructed the health ministry to vaccinate everyone above 30, particularly in the Grama Niladhari divisions that have recorded a high number of COVID-19 cases. This is in order to reduce deaths and the spread of the virus, she said.

When questioned about her powers within the Health Ministry, Fernandopulle said that it is the Secretary to the Ministry and Director General of Health Services who have authority within the ministry.

However, she said that the government will take measures to correct the mistakes made in the program as Sri Lanka is spending huge amounts on the vaccines. (Colombo/Feb25/2021)

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