ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka could have vaccinated more than a million people against COVID-19 by mid-April 2021 had it not been for misinformation about the Chinese Sinopharm jab, a top official said.
Speaking at a live Government Information Department discussion on June 02, State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) General Manager Dr Prasanna Gunasena said the current crisis could’ve been averted if it weren’t for conspiracy theories about the Chinese vaccine.
The SPC wrote to all vaccine manufacturers and managed to acquire 600,000 doses of Sinopharm in March this year, said Gunasena, but the rollout had to wait till May as the vaccine hadn’t been approved for emergency use by either the World Health Organisation (WHO) or Sri Lanka’s National Medicine Regulatory Authority (NMRA).
“When we got the vaccine, because it didn’t have WHO approval yet, some people made it seem as if it was a dangerous vaccine that was going to be administered to Sri Lankans because of some political deal with China,” said Gunasena.
The SPC chief said a specialist committee was delaying a decision on rolling out the vaccine due to pressure from “certain parties”.
An expert committee of the NMRA did not approve Sinopharm for emergency use in Sri Lanka until after the WHO had given its approval on May 07. The consignment that arrived in March was held in storage till then, with a few thousand doses being administered to Chinese nationals in Sri Lanka.
A March 17 report filed by the NMRA noted that, 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 jab for emergency use in the country. Top members of the NMRA board were then controversially replaced, with the Association of Medical Specialists (AMS) claiming on March 30 that the reconstituted board had 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)”.
Said Dr Gunasena in the June 02 discussion: “We must note that this same committee gave its approval to the Russian Sputnik V and the Indian AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine before WHO approved them for emergency use.”
He said Sri Lanka missed an opportunity to avoid the prevailing situation in which over 2,500 new cases are reported every day.
“Because of this delay, 500,000 people couldn’t receive the vaccine on time. If that had been done, the next 600,000 doses we received recently would’ve arrived earlier in April. Before the Sinhala & Tamil New Year, we could’ve vaccinated over a million people,” said Gunasena.
He claimed the same thing happened to Sinovac, the other China-manufactured COVID-19 vaccine.
“Some said only 50 percent [of Sinovac receivers] will live,” he said.
Had the WHO delayed its on June 01 approval of Sinovac, said Gunasena, Sri Lanka wouldn’t have had the opportunity to import the vaccine or to manufacture it locally as per an agreement that Sri Lankan authorities hope to reach with the Chinese manufacturer.
“Don’t listen to union leaders, politicians or anyone else. There are specialists in relevant government departments. Listen to them,” he said.
“Findings on vaccines are subject to change. Only a specialist is qualified to comment on it,” he added.
For example, he said, just the first dose of certain vaccines may turn out to be sufficient.
“Always go to the authorities for the correct information, not to individuals who won’t have all the facts,” said Gunasena.
According to the SPC chief, Sri Lanka had initially planned to acquire 56 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines with excess doses in case anything went wrong.
“We’re now trying to get 10 to 15 million more in case a manufacturer stops delivery to Sri Lanka for some reason, to ensure that we’re safe,” he said. (Colombo/June03/2021)