Getting booster shot important – Dr. Jeewandara
By Thameenah Razeek
Director of the Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Dr. Chandima Jeewandara, said receiving the booster shot is important at this time, and encouraged people to adhere to basic health practices.
He said they are closely monitoring the situation and had increased genetic sequencing.
He said ‘Omicron,’ the fifth COVID variant detected in the world, has been upgraded as a variant of concern due to its higher transmissibility, adding that it may show different symptom profiles, may demonstrate differences in disease severity, and may also evade diagnostic testing.
He urged Sri Lankans to remain vigilant in the face of the pandemic, as global concern grows over the highly mutated COVID-19 variant ‘Omicron.’
Speaking about the newly discovered SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern, Dr. Jeewandara said there have been few cases in the world where people became infected despite being vaccinated against the virus. Meanwhile, some people who had been infected with the Delta variant of the virus had developed the Omicron variant symptoms.
He explained that there is no concrete evidence that the Omicron variant can evade either vaccine-induced or natural immunity. However, based on the collection of mutations, scientists predict that it will be able to evade vaccine-produced antibodies, he added.
Dr. Jeewandara urged the public to get their booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine administered without delay. “The booster dose enhances our immunity. So, we will not have to worry even if the Omicron variant enters the country. Nobody, as of yet, knows what severe effects the Omicron variant could cause.”
A majority of Sri Lankans are fully vaccinated with the China-made Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine, he said, adding that the antibodies created by the vaccine reduced after three months. Accordingly, Dr. Jeewandara stressed the importance of receiving the booster dose of the vaccine, especially for the elderly.
Speaking further, Dr. Jeewandara said the current efforts taken by the Government to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 have been successful. The rules and regulations imposed on arrivals from overseas are also adequate, he explained.
With the latest developments and mirroring the decisions taken by multiple other countries, Sri Lanka also barred the arrival of foreign travellers who have been to six countries in the African Continent.
Passengers with a travel history, including transit, to South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini (Swaziland) within the past 14 days are not allowed entry to the Island Nation with effect from midnight on 28 November.
Sri Lanka is equipped with the necessary laboratory facilities required to identify the virus strain, Dr. Jeewandara said, stressing that Sri Lanka is well prepared for the situation. The public should not have any undue fears about the new coronavirus strain, he added.
“What needs to be done at present is to delay the Omicron variant from entering the country. We cannot prevent a virus strain from entering Sri Lanka forever,” he said.
The Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 is the only strain still spreading in Sri Lanka, Dr. Jeewandara added. The Omicron variant, which was first referred to as B.1.1.529, carries more than 30 mutations on the spike protein. Evidence also suggested an increased reinfection risk, according to findings.
The new variant was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) from South Africa on 24 November. It has also been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong, Israel, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy.