Outlining COVID-19 Vaccine Plan
By Faadhila Thassim
With the increasing number of COVID-19 infections and deaths worldwide, there has been an equivalent increase in the demand for the vaccines that are produced and tested in several countries.
Sri Lanka, which is immensely impacted by the Pandemic, has been constantly looking into the possibilities of obtaining the vaccines and has decided to obtain the vaccines between mid and end February 2021.
According to State Minister of Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, the requisites for obtaining the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have been looked into.
Fernandopulle stated that health workers, frontline workers including tri-forces and those who are above the age of 60 will be prioritised for vaccination.
Chief Epidemiologist, Dr. Sudath Samaraweera added that while the elderly population above 60 years will be eligible to be vaccinated; those who are below the age of 60 but are suffering from chronic diseases will also be eligible.
“The initial focus is on those who are posed with a greater risk of contracting the virus and as regards the health sector employees, there would be a total collapse in the treatment procedure if they fall prey to COVID-19,” he added.
GMOA Spokesperson, Dr. Haritha Aluthge stated that there are some very important aspects of the COVID-19 vaccine that are yet to be determined, including the duration for which the dosage would be effective in fighting against COVID-19.
He added that different results have been obtained from different vaccines and in general two dosages of the vaccine have to be administered and whether one will be secure from contracting the virus following the first dosage is yet to be determined.
He further added that further assessments include determining if a person who has received a particular COVID-19 vaccine shots could be a carrier who could infect others.
Samaraweera stated that while there are constant discussions as to the manner in which the eligible persons are vaccinated, there could also be separate clinics for administration considering its need.
Will Private Hospitals be allowed to administer Vaccine?
Samaraweera said, that facilitating private medical clinics with COVID-19 vaccine administration, will be only looked upon in the future after the initial stages of obtaining vaccines have been completed.
Process of obtaining the vaccine from India
External Affairs Minister of India, Dr. S. Jaishankar told President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that India is ready to prioritise Sri Lanka for supplying the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently being produced in the country.
President Rajapaksa expressed his willingness to obtain the vaccine so produced in India after an accurate assessment of the need for the treatment.
While operations are underway to obtain vaccines under the initial phase in February, the Cabinet has also approved the Ministry of Health to enter into an agreement in order to be eligible to obtain COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility.
Thereby Sri Lanka is due to obtain vaccines for 20 per cent of its population through this facility which is a global initiative to ensure that there is equal and fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in countries.
Accordingly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recognised Sri Lanka as a country eligible for the COVAX programme while the country is already included in the COVAX programme and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI).
PTF for Nat Deployment and Vaccination Plan
A Presidential Task Force (PTF) headed by Principal Adviser to the President, Lalith Weerathunga was authorised by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to carry out several COVID-19 vaccination-related activities including that of identifying the most appropriate vaccine(s) for Sri Lanka in consultation with technical experts and available evidence.
The Task Force is vested with the following responsibilities:
-To establish appropriate and streamlined regulatory and administrative procedures for emergency approval, fast track procurement, imports, customs clearances, and release stocks to the national immunization programme.
-The Task Force while collaborating with relevant embassies, donors, UN Agencies, and professional groups for technical and material support has to identify and prioritise population groups that are at a higher risk from COVID-19 for vaccination in the first phase and thereafter for sequence delivery to the rest of the public.
-Formulating and implementing a COVID-19 vaccine deployment and vaccination plan that includes clear responsibilities, standard operating procedures and timelines for participating stakeholders, chain of reporting and management structures and assessment of existing supply chain systems in order to identify and address gaps, such as storage, distribution, temperature monitoring, tracking and reporting vaccine stocks.
-Establishing a robust supply chain information system on stock management and distribution that includes monitoring and reporting of vaccine utilisation.
-To devise appropriate logistics plans for rolling out of the vaccination plan, including identification of locations for vaccination, vaccination teams, procurement of required equipment, consumables and their distribution, cold chain capacities and storage of the vaccine, and monitor its implementation.
-Identifying the human resources, technology, and budgetary requirements to ensure timely delivery of vaccines and vaccination while regularly reviewing and incorporation of global information related to COVID-19 vaccines, where appropriate, into the planning and preparation for COVID-19 vaccine deployment and vaccination processes.
-Enforce a vaccination vigilance plan to record and monitor the process of vaccination and report adverse effects in real-time, ensure proper training for supply chain and health staff for the successful and timely deployment of vaccines and vaccination and liaise with relevant experts and agencies to ensure quality of training.
-Establish a public communication mechanism to report on the progress of the vaccine deployment and vaccination strategy.
The Task Force has been instructed to look into the following and produce a report in a timely manner:
Will vaccines be able to defeat the new COVID-19 strain?
Although currently the new strain is reported as not having a major effect on Sri Lanka, according to Samaraweera, the currently manufactured and tested vaccines have proved to be sufficient in defeating the new COVID-19 strain as well.
Will the importation in 2021 February guarantee a situation free of COVID-19?
Dr. Haritha Aluthge stated that the importation of the COVID-19 vaccine itself is not a guarantee that the virus will be completely eradicated from the country as the risk of spread remains; therefore he added that the current health guidelines should be followed until there is an approval by the relevant authorities that the spread has been completely controlled.
He added that although WHO itself has stated that the vaccines are yet to obtain the final approval, they are being used in many countries under the emergency approval and thereby, health guidelines should be followed prior to getting vaccinated and even afterwards, until there is reassurance of the control of the spread.
COVID-19 vaccination worldwide
The United Kingdom was the first country to start the COVID-19 vaccination drive for its citizens following which several other countries carried out the vaccination procedure for their citizens. Few of the countries that have currently administered COVID-19 vaccines are Belarus, Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica,Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Kuwait, Malta, Mexico, Oman, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Russia and United States while several other countries are yet to obtain the vaccines.
According to WHO, currently there are more than 50 COVID-19 vaccine candidates under trial and the WHO is working in collaboration with scientists, businesses, and global health organisations through the ACT Accelerator to speed up the programme.
Aluthge stated that although receiving COVID-19 vaccines itself is not a guarantee that the pandemic in Sri Lanka would be ended, the availability of the vaccines and the procedures that are currently being followed to obtain the vaccines can be considered a light at the end of the tunnel.