Sri Lanka’s vaccine rollout a failure says top community physician

By Chanka Jayasinghe

COLOMBO – Despite a promising start, Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy has proved a failure due to gross mismanagement in the rollout, charged President of the  College of Community Physicians Sri Lanka, Dr. Nihal Abyesinghe, alleging everyone was in the dark about the government’s vaccination plan.

“Even we don’t know what is happening,” he said.

Pointing to a lack of clarity, Dr. Abeyesinghe said the government has only been releasing the number of daily vaccinations without communicating to the public its vaccine strategy in toto.

“For example, there is no information regarding what is going to happen to the vaccines that were brought in on Sunday (8) – whether they will be used to vaccinate people above 60 who already got their first jab or to vaccinate above 60s for the first time,” he said.

Questioning what steps will be taken to give the second jab to those who got their first dose, he said  only the authorities can answer the questions.

Sri Lanka received 264,000 doses of AstraZeneca (Covishield) under the COVAX facility on Sunday (8). State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID-19 Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle told reporters on Sunday  the vaccine will be administered to people in the community over the age of 60.

The government has so far been vaccinating people over 30 in high risk areas of the Western Province, with allegations rife that a previously approved priority list had been discarded. Including frontline workers. Sri Lanka has vaccinated over 700,000 people so far.

Noting that vaccination drives in other countries have been better coordinated, Dr. Abeysinhe said countries that successfully do the vaccination have categorized receivers correctly. “They have a plan on whom to vaccinate,  when to do it, and how the doses will be used. They have done it well,” he pointed out, adding, “Look at India and where there is a population of over 1.3 billion. They have a more successful vaccination plan.”

Indifference on the part of the public with regard to the flaws in Sri Lanka’s vaccine rollout has led to the authorities continuing on their current path, Dr. Abeysinghe said, alleging the general public also does not care as long as they get the vaccine.

Commenting on the discarded priority list which had identified over 60s as being next in line after frontline workers, Dr. Abeysinghe said the change in criteria was the mean reason for the government’s vaccination plans to fail.

“The authorities have again changed their plans and now with the COVAX consignment, they say they will vaccinate citizens above 60 years. I think these changes have shocked the World Health Organization as well, and even they are unable to interfere,” he said, and called on the public to ask probing questions from the authorities and hold them accountable.

“People need to ask what the next step is, about how we’re getting the stocks for the second jab that needs to be started in next month and how it’s supposed to work. No one seems to know,” he said.

According to Dr. Abeysinghe, many experts have given up on the country’s initially well-laid vaccination plans in sheer frustration and have refused to participate in implementing the current strategy of vaccinating citizens.

“The initial picture of Sri Lanka as a country with a great vaccination plan is no longer true. We have rejected offers to participate too. Why should we waste our time if they don’t take our advice?” he asked.

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