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Sunday June 20th, 2021

Sri Lanka to rely on Sputnik V, as search continues for more AstraZeneca

The Sputnik V vaccine contains two slightly different doses – Image credit: Marco Verch/Flickr

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will henceforth use the Russia-made Sputnik V jab as the country’s primary vaccine against COVID-19, ministers said, while talking to governments with excess AstraZeneca to secure more doses for some 600,000 people awaiting their second shot.

State Minister of Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle told EconomyNext today that authorities are looking at every possible avenue to acquire more vaccines.

“There are countries that have purchased and stored excess consignments of the AstraZeneca jab. We’re talking to those governments to see if we can acquire vaccines from them,” she said.

Meanwhile, State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals Prof Channa Jayasumana told reporters this morning that Sri Lanka will switch to Sputnik V as the main vaccine for the remainder of 2021.

Sri Lanka started administering the Russian jab today for citizens between 30 and 60 years of age in Gothatuwa, Colombo, an area that authorities said has reported a high incidence of daily COVID-19 cases.

The National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) approved Sputnik V for emergency use in Sri Lanka on March 04 and the cabinet of ministers subsequently approved a proposal to purchase seven million doses of it for USD 69.65 million this year.

The State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals told reporters that 13.5 million Sri Lankans need to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“We can inoculate at least half that number with Sputnik V,” he said.

The vaccine needs to be stored at temperatures between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius (a standard fridge is roughly 3 to 5 degrees). The two doses of the Russian vaccine are to be administered 21 days apart.

Sputnik V is unusual from other COVID-19 vaccines in that it 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.

Fifteen thousand doses arrived in Sri Lanka on May 04 for a trial rollout to be supervised by Russian officials.

Chairman of the State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) Dr Prasanna Gunasena told Sri Lanka’s ABC media network that the jabs were sent as a test consignment for Russian officials to personally supervise the process of an initial rollout.

“They’ll be supervising everything from the point they land in Sri Lanka: how we release the consignment from the airport, how we transport it and how we store it,” he said.

“Once they’re satisfied with our processes, they will send the rest,” he added.

It is unclear whether such supervision took place in today’s rollout.

Gunaseana had previously said the timeline for the arrival of the Russian jab was 200,000 doses by April, 400,000 by May, 800,000 by June and 1.2 million by July.

“It was delayed due to some reason, but the Russian authorities have promised to send the rest of the vaccine as scheduled,” he said in an earlier interview.

Quoting the Health Ministry’s epidemiology unit, Gunasena said at a press conference last month, it has been advised to administer the Sputnik V vaccine to citizens under the age of 60. The geographical areas – apart from Gothatuwa – where the vaccine will be distributed has yet to be declared, however.

The SPC chairman said that 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.

Meanwhile, Minister of Health Pavithra Wanniarachchi said authorities plan to vaccinate 63 percent of the population by the end of 2021.

So far 139,286 out of 925,242 Sri Lankans have received their second dose of the AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine as of March 04.

Sri Lanka has around 350,000 doses of the India-mad vaccine in store and need some 600,000 more to administer as the second shot. (Colombo/May06/2021)


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