ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka began rolling out the second dose of the AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine today as the country’s COVID-19 death toll reached 661 with a record 1,451 people testing positive for the virus as at 9.30pm.
Starting today, health authorities plan to administer the second shot to 155,000 frontline workers in the state health sector and 127,500 in the military who have all received their first jab, officials said.
State Minister Prof Channa Jayasumana said the second dose will be given in the same order as the first.
“We need around 600,000 more doses to complete the second round and India has informed us that they will supply the required doses in the near future,” Jayasumana told reporters at the Ranasinghe Premadasa Memorial Hospital in Colombo today where the second rollout for health workers formally began.
The rollout for military personnel commenced at the Army Hospital in Colombo today with the participation of the Commander of Army Gen Shavendra Silva.
Chief Advisor to the President Lalith Weeratunge who oversees Sri Lanka’s vaccine rollout said last Friday (23) that remaining doses of the AstraZeneca-Covishield jab must be administered before they expire in July.
Sri Lanka has immunised 923,954 people against COVID-19 so far (first dose only) with a total of 1,264,000 Covishield doses that the health services received as a donation from India, through the COVAX facility and as a purchase from the Serum Institute of India.
Minister of Health Pavithra Wanniarachchi in an earlier report said 356,730 doses of Covishield vaccines are in storage to be administered as the second dose and need 568,000 more to complete the second dose roll out.
Authorities started vaccinating Chinese nationals in the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) area on April 05 with the 600,000 doses of the Chinese manufactured Sinopharm vaccine that were donated to Sri Lanka by the Chinese government.
The cabinet of ministers had previously approved the purchase of seven million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine for a sum of USD 69.65 million. The ministers on April 05 approved a proposal to purchase another six million doses at a price of USD 9.95 per dose.
According to State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) Chairman Dr Prasanna Gunasena, the timeline for the arrival of the Russian jab is: 200,000 doses by April , 400,000 by May, 800,000 by June and 1.2 million by July.
Gunasena said Sri Lanka has also signed agreements with the US-based Pfizer Inc. The multinational pharmaceutical giant has communicated to the SPC that between April to June, 35,000 doses will be delivered to Sri Lanka, followed by 105,000 from July to September and 4.8 million from October to December.
In order for Sri Lanka to reach herd immunity, he said, out of a population of 21 million, 13 million should be vaccinated. The funds to this end will be provided by the Asia Development Bank, the World Bank and the government, he added.
The World Bank said today that it had approved an 80.5 million US dollar credit to finance Sri Lanka’s battle against COVID-19 on top of 217.5 million dollars approved in April 2020.
“This new financing will help purchase vaccines to cover approximately 4 million people (18 percent of Sri Lanka’s population),” the World Bank said.
“In addition, it will cover the costs of deploying safe and effective vaccines to 20 percent of Sri Lanka’s population to meet the target of vaccinating at least 60 percent of its population.”
Sri Lanka has seen a surge in daily COVID-19 cases since the April holidays. The COVID-19 strain that’s now spreading fast in the country is confirmed to be the more virulent UK B.1.1.7 variant, according to experts at the state-run Sri Jayawardena pura University.
The finding is a result of gene sequencing of 43 samples collected in Colombo, Boralesgamuwa and Kurunegala, Director, Allergy Immunology and Cell Biology Unit, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Dr Chandima Jeewandara said this morning.
Almost all samples sequenced were found to be of the B.1.1.7 strain, he said.
The strain was first detected in the community on April 08 this year, Jeewandara told reporters this morning.
Chief Epidemiologist Dr Sudath Samaraweera said the new variant has been observed to infect more children than previous strains. Studies have also revealed, he said, that if pregnant women get infected with COVID-19 it can give to rise complications during child birth.
“Therefore, pregnant women, children as well as patients with non-communicable diseases should be extremely careful to not get infected,” Samarawera said.
Meanwhile, Army Chief Gen Silva clarifying a statement attributed to him that the country might go into a lockdown any moment said this evening that there are no plans for an islandwide lockdown but certain areas may be isolated if a “fair amount” of cases are detected within.
Given the nature of the fast-spreading strain of the virus, NewsFirst quoted Silva as saying, areas with a high incidence of cases may be isolated without prior notice.
“We never said stock up essentials because the country will be locked down. What we meant was that some areas may be isolated without prior notice,” he said. (Colombo/Apr28/2021)