ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is once again reconsidering a previously announced date to begin administering the second dose of the Covieshield AstraZeneca vaccine, officials said.
The ministry of health maintains that this is to reflect the latest scientific findings, though concerns have been raised that it may in fact be due to a shortage in jabs.
State Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle told parliament earlier this month (05) that over 900,000 recipients of the first dose will receive their second shot starting April 19.
“We have around 300,000 doses of the vaccine left to give as the second dose from April 19 to June 30. In the meantime, we expect to receive consignments from the Serum Institute and the COVAX facility,” she said.
Ministry of Health (MoH), Epidemiology Unit, Consultant Medical Epidemiologist Dr Deepa Gamage told a state-run television channel last Sunday (11) that an MOH technical committee is looking at administering the second shot 16 weeks after the first, instead of the 10-12-week wait that was previously announced.
“Initially, when the AstraZeneca vaccine was introduced, the consensus was to give the second dose four weeks after the first, so [Sri Lanka] first decided to give the two doses one month apart. These findings change with time. It was then found that a 10-12-week gap would be more effective, so we changed our wait time accordingly.
“The latest research shows that the first shot provides protection up to 16 weeks. The technical committee is in procession of all the information. They will meet after the Sinhala & Tamil new year festivities and take a decision on the date,” said Gamage.
Clinical trials for the AstraZeneca vaccine has indeed demonstrated optimal efficacy when the interval between the first and second doses is more than 12 weeks, and can be extended up to 16 weeks in total.
Sri Lanka has so far used the Covishield-branded Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII) to immunise citizens against COVID-19. According to Gamage, 1,264,000 doses have arrived in the country so far as donations from the Indian government (500,000 doses) and the COVAX facility (264,000) and as direct purchases from SII (500,000).
A second batch of 500,000 doses purchased by the Sri Lanka State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) from SII was scheduled to arrive in March, followed by a third in April. However, following export restrictions imposed by the Indian government, it is unclear when the remaining jabs might arrive. According to SPC officials, the second batch may not be here till end April or early May.
Gamage said, once a date has been decided on, some 350,000 remaining doses will be enough for a three-week rollout of the second dose for those who received their first shot in late January and early February.
“We started vaccination in Sri Lanka within a month of a vaccine being introduced to the world,” she said.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Pavithra Vanniarachchi told parliament on April 08 that 356,730 doses are in storage to be administered as the second dose from April 23 to June 06.
“We need 568,000 more doses of Covishield and we hope to receive another consignment of 500,000 from Serum after we restart the rollout on April 23,” she said.
Sri Lanka has vaccinated 925,242 as of April 09 when immunisation was temporarily halted, official data shows. The country recorded 117 new COVID-19 cases over a 24-hour period that ended at 6am today, 18 of whom were from abroad. (Colombo/Apr15/2021)