UNP seeks clarification on Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 vaccine doses

The UNP party headquarters in Pitakotte/EconomyNext

ECONOMYNEXT – The United National Party (UNP) has urged the government to clarify what the party calls confusion surrounding the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses Sri Lanka is expected to receive.

UNP member Sudath Jayasundara told reporters today that there are contradictions in the figures quoted by the government with respect to vaccines that are to be purchased.

“According to the Army Commander, a consignment of 500,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine is expected to arrive in the country this week. However, there is no indication of the origin of these vaccines,” a statement from the UNP said.

Silva told the media this morning that 500,000 doses of the India-manufactured Covishield-Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine will arrive within the next seven days as the first batch of an 18-million order that Sri Lanka has already paid for.

The UNP also sought clarification on where a further 500,000 doses that it said were to be received through the COVAX facility.

“Th National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) told media over the weekend that the World Health Organisation (WHO) approval for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was still pending and they were hopeful this would be provided within the week. This approval is necessary for Sri Lanka to receive the vaccine via the COVAX facility. With the delay in the arrival of the vaccines via the WHO, the UNP requests the government to elaborate on where these 500,000 doses are being provided from,” the statement said.

The former ruling party said there is also confusion over the total number of COVID-19 vaccines that the country is expecting.

“At present the country is in possession of 500,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca doses gifted by the Indian government. A further 300,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine has been promised to the country. However, to date, the required approvals have not been provided for this vaccine maker.

“According to COVAX, Sri Lanka is guaranteed to receive 1.7 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine within the first half of this year, pending approval of the vaccine by the WHO. With COVAX guaranteeing provision of vaccine doses for 20% of the populace, Sri Lanka will receive in total 8.8 million doses from COVAX,” the party said.

According to the army chief, however, Sri Lanka will likely receive an unspecified number of a WHO-approved vaccine through the COVAX facility within the first and second week of March.  He told a privately owned network today that the WHO had indicated that Sri Lanka receive enough doses through COVAX to vaccinate up to 27 to 30 percent of the population – an increase from the previously promised 20 percent.

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The UNP said the projected numbers are still a large shortfall of necessary vaccine doses for the general public. In January, the statement said, Presidential Advisor Lalith Weeratunga had said the government would purchase 2-3 million doses of the vaccine from India. On February 4, it said, the Secretary to the State Ministry of Primary Health Sri Lanka had said 9 million doses would be purchased from India, while on February 11 the Deputy Director-General of Health Services had said 18 million doses would be purchased.

“The government must immediately clarify the confusion existing in the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses that will be purchased by the government and elaborate as to when they will arrive in the country. Despite pledges to begin the vaccination of the general public by the first week of March, the country has yet to receive any new vaccine doses,” the UNP said.

Sri Lanka was set to begin vaccinating the general public against COVID-19 today (15) with what was to be the second dose of the Covishield vaccine for frontline workers, officials said.

Members of the public who are at high risk of exposure – for example, port workers – will receive the vaccine, starting in parts of the Western Province today, a spokesman for Sri Lanka’s pandemic task force told EconomyNext.

The remaining 250,000 doses of the Covishield vaccine that frontline workers were to receive 12 weeks after their first jab will be repurposed for this, the spokesperson said.

Sri Lanka started vaccinating frontline workers in the health sector and the military on January 29, with the half a million doses of Covishield that was donated by the Indian government later that month. (Colombo/Feb15/2021)

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