SL to continue vaccination despite lack of supplies; India denies export restrictions

Monday, 5 April 2021 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The Government yesterday reiterated it will continue the COVID-19 immunisation program, despite a delay in vaccine supplies from India.

Conflicting remarks made by health officials over the weekend, however, led to confusion over the country’s COVID-19 immunisation program, which is currently focused on persons over the age of 60 with the use of vaccines received through the COVAX facility.

State Minister of Primary Healthcare, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle is quoted as saying the vaccination drive was temporarily suspended on 31 March due to delays in vaccine supplies from the Serum Institute of India.

In addition to this, Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera said: “As of now, the number of vaccines the country has received is 1,264,000 and we have used 923,954 doses. We also need to administer the second dose and, due to this, we have temporarily suspended administering the first dose as we need vaccines for the second dose.”

However, he later stated that, at a discussion held at the Health Ministry, a decision was made to continue the vaccination program targeting persons over 60 years.

Sri Lanka’s health officials have stated that India has guaranteed vaccine supplies. On 26 March, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals State Minister Channa Jayasumana said supplies will arrive in the country by the end of May, which is when more vaccines will be required for the remaining second doses to be administered.

He also stated that the second dose will be administered starting 11 April and that 400,000 doses have been set aside for the second dose. This would be sufficient for the vaccination program to continue until the end of May.

The country received 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from India, half of which was a donation from the Government of India, and the other half was purchased from the Serum Institute of India. Sri Lanka also received 264,000 doses of the same vaccine through the COVAX facility.

At present, less than 340,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine remain unused in the island.

Uncertainty regarding vaccination has been attributed to the lack of supplies from India. 

Despite this, a spokesperson of the High Commission of India in Sri Lanka yesterday stated that India has not imposed any export restrictions on COVID-19 vaccines manufactured in the country and that production is being ramped up to meet domestic requirements and global demand.

“I would like to draw your attention to the response given by the Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs of India in New Delhi on 2 April. He very clearly said that the Government of India has not imposed any export ban on COVID-19 vaccines,” the spokesperson said, adding that supplies to many countries in various regions of the world took place in the past week.

“Sri Lanka is among 80 countries to which a total of over 64 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines made in India have been supplied, as a bilateral gift, through the COVAX facility and on commercial orders – many of which were placed last year,” the statement read.

It went on to mention the donation made by India in January, which is what Sri Lanka started its vaccination drive with.

“More than 1.25 million doses of the made-in-India Covishield vaccine have so far been delivered to Sri Lanka. Production of COVID-19 vaccines in India is being ramped up further to meet domestic requirements and global demand,” the statement added.