GMOA alleges politicisation
By Dilanthi Jayamanne
The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) accused the Epidemiology Unit of paving the way once more for politicians to distribute chits to their supporters in obtaining the COVID-19 vaccine after the Director General Health Services (DGHS) issued the ‘National Vaccination Programme Against COVID-19 to identify Priority Groups,’ for the next phase of the COVID-19 vaccination programme where the Sinopharm vaccine was to be used.
GMOA Secretary, Dr. Senal Fernando said that according to the Circular, priority had been given to those over 60 years, pregnant women, employees of the government sector working at level (which include District Secretaries, Divisional Secretaries, Grama Niladari officials, Samurdhi officials and other members of the village committee), employees in factories and workplaces (all employees above 18 years of age), selected from high- risk MOH areas. Also, the general population between 30 to 60 years in selected Grama Niladari Divisions in selected high- risk MOH areas have been included in the priority listing, he said.
All elders’ homes in the identified Districts of Matale, Nuwara Eliya, Hambantota, Trincomalee, Ampara, Anuradhapura, Kurunegala, Puttalam, Badulla, Moneragala and Kegalle would also receive the vaccine, Dr Fernando pointed out that there was very little difference in the vaccination programme that is currently being carried out and the one to be implemented in the above-mentioned Districts. Vaccination was currently being carried out prioritising high risk areas. Invariably it paves the way for political interference and preferential treatment being given to certain people in those areas.
It still leaves room for political manipulation of the vaccination programme. He lamented that it would have been well and good if the Epidemiology Unit at least now had followed a scientific method in identifying the target groups. The GMOA Secretary noted that the COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy which had been prepared by his outfit in consultation with clinicians and epidemiologists coincided with the ones prepared by the WHO and the National Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases (NCCD).
It gave a clear priority listing starting from the ‘mandatory stage’ of administering the coronavirus vaccine to frontline workers both health and nonhealth workers including the Tri Forces, police and their highrisk contacts. According to the collaborative efforts of doctors’ unions, stage one should be aimed at reducing the mortality rate and case severity through vaccination of all persons above 60 years, pregnant women and persons between the ages of 18 to 60 years with comorbidities.
Stage two of the vaccination process should aim at maintaining economically essential services through the vaccination of government employees such as those in the Water Board, Electricity Board, Petroleum, ports of entry, Postal, Telecom, banking, sanitary services, supply chains, economic centres and large scale factory workers.
Also closed environment workers such as teachers and university staff should also receive the vaccine during stage two. He noted that in stage three University students, persons between 18 and 60 without insignificant comorbidities should be vaccinated.
“The aim should be to put the available vaccines to maximum use at this juncture and prevent deaths and severity of disease due to COVID-19 and ensure that essential services and economic activities are maintained but even now the main aim of the Epidemiology Unit is preventing disease spread which calls for 70 percent of the country’s population to receive the vaccine which currently is a far cry due to the slow arrival of vaccines.
Meanwhile, the Epidemiology Unit has administered 353,156 doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca second dose, 953,480 of the Sinopharm first dose and 64,986 of the Sputnik V first dose by 5 June 2021.