Has Covid-19 died a natural death?

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Has Covid-19 died a natural death, that the competent authority under the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance No. 3 of 1897 took measures to revoke the declaration of entire Sri Lanka as a disease locality for Coronavirus (Covid-19)?

From March 2020, till the end of last year, the country was under the curse of various mutations of the coronavirus. Under long periods of Police curfew due to the two major outbreaks the country witnessed following April New Year 2021 and the subsequent Delta wave, the Health Ministry, in collaboration with the Army, was able to administer three doses of the coronavirus vaccine.      

Vaccination situation

Sri Lanka has received a total of 51,252,874 vaccines by 19 May 2022. They included 2,865,424 doses of AstraZeneca, 330,000 doses of Sputnik V, 26,000,000 doses of Sinopharm, 20,557,350 doses of Pfizer, and 1,500,000 doses of Moderna Coronavirus vaccines.

All vaccines were approved for emergency use even in Sri Lanka. The statistics issued by the Health Ministry shows that of the total number of vaccines the country received, 17,068,255 had obtained the first dose, which amounted to 97 per cent of the country’s population eligible for the coronavirus vaccine. Of them, 82 per cent of the population amounting to 14,483,145 obtained the second dose of the vaccine.

But as we all know, a majority of people did not show enthusiasm in taking the third or booster dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. The public developed fear, alleging certain complications that some of them developed after taking the Covid vaccine, and this contributed largely towards reducing the number of persons who received the booster or third dose of the Covid vaccine.

On Thursday (19), a total 7,975,617 persons amounting to 55 per cent of the target population had obtained the booster dose, according to statistics of the Health Ministry’s Epidemiology Unit.

Omicron variant and mandatory vaccine card

By December last year, the country saw its first case of the Omicron variant in a person who had returned from a Nigerian tour. However, although many persons were infected (perhaps not like what was experienced during the Alpha and Delta waves of the Covid virus) the country was able to continue functioning sans Police curfew, while the Health Ministry was able to amend work-related Covid regulations that had been in place for the past two years. Overall, people were asked to return to duty after a lapse of seven days of being quarantined at home.

According to the Deputy Director General (DDG) of Health Services Disaster Management and Emergency Response, Dr. Hemantha Herath, with a large section of the public having received two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, there was an increased level of immunity that had built up. It was what had helped Sri Lanka largely during the past months of protests and demonstrations where large numbers gathered. So much so that the public even suspected and opposed Health Minister Channa Jayasumana’s move to “unmask” them.

The Ministry was also set to implement regulations making the Covid vaccination card mandatory in public places. It was also proposed that persons who had been administered all three doses of the vaccine were the ones to be considered fully vaccinated.  

Fourth dose

The Health Ministry has rolled out the fourth dose – which is also a booster shot or the fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. According to Dr. Herath, the fourth shot could be obtained from the nearest Medical Officer of Health (MoH) office or at the Viharamahadevi Army Vaccination Centre and the National Hospital of Colombo.

Due to the present situation in the country however, the MoH offices administered the vaccine only at a limited number of places that have been identified by each office. “Those getting the vaccine could contact the MoH office to obtain a date and time to go for their jab,” he said.

The decision was taken to give a fourth dose owing to the noted decrease seen in the number of cases who obtained third or booster dose of the jab, which is only 55 per cent of the target population. That is much less than the numbers who obtained the second dose of the Covid jab. He said the Ministry was concerned of the possible decline in immunity levels against the Covid virus.  

Expiry date

From the stock of Sinopharm vaccines the country received, there were 1.8 to 2 million vaccine doses remaining, according to Health Ministry sources. They said there were 1.3 million to 1.5 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech jabs remaining.

The Pfizer-BioNTech doses expire by the end of July this year, sources said. “But the fact is even if you get the fourth shot or not the vaccine would expire. The fact is the Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases only gave a green light for the fourth shot of the vaccine at this juncture, when the vaccine is about to complete its shelf life,” they added. 

By Dilanthi Jayamanne