Vaccination not an immediate solution: Dr. Fernandopulle

Thursday, 13 May 2021 01:13 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • 600,000 doses of Sputnik V due in 2 weeks 
  • Says vaccine impact will take at least 3 months 

Health officials yesterday stated vaccination is a mid-term strategy against COVID-19 and could not be used to immediately control the third wave of the pandemic the country is currently hit by as the effects of vaccination will only be seen in three months’ time.

The statement was made by Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control State Minister Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle at a press briefing held yesterday.

Despite this, the Government is taking necessary measures to reach its target of vaccinating 63% of the population.

According to Dr. Fernandopulle, 11,338 persons have received the first dose of the Sputnik V vaccine. The country received a total of 15,000 doses from Russia.

“The Sputnik V vaccine must be stored at -20 degrees and must be administered within two hours of being taken out of storage. So, the initial 15,000 doses were supplied in order to see if we can provide the necessary infrastructure for the vaccine,” she said, adding that 600,000 doses of Sputnik V are due in two weeks.

The country also received 600,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine and administered the first dose to 2,865 Chinese nationals working in Sri Lanka given the absence of National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) approval for use for Sri Lankans. The second dose has been administered to 2,435 Chinese nationals.

Dr. Fernandopulle explained that the delay in NMRA approval for the Sinopharm vaccine was over necessary data but approval was given after the World Health Organization (WHO) approved Sinopharm for emergency use.

The vaccine is currently being administered to persons in the Western Province, as the Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara Districts have the highest number of COVID-19 detections.

The vaccine has been administered to 68,338 Sri Lankans to date.

At present, the vaccination program is only targeting persons between the ages of 30 and 60. When questioned about the vaccination of the elderly population of the country, Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera explained that the age group selected for vaccination depends on the type of vaccine used.

According to Dr. Samaraweera, the Sputnik V vaccine cannot be administered to persons over 60.

“These vaccines were developed within a year and vaccines are first tested on healthy persons. It is when there are no adverse effects and the vaccine is deemed safe, that the vaccine is given to persons with various health conditions, the elderly, children, pregnant mothers, and other high-risk or special categories,” he explained.

Due to a lack of data on vaccine safety for these groups, Sputnik V cannot be recommended for the elderly.

As for Sinopharm, the World Health Organization recommends closely monitoring all persons over 60 years who receive the vaccine, Dr. Samaraweera said. Due to this, it has been decided to only administer the Sinopharm vaccine to persons between 30 and 60 residing in high-risk areas.

“When carrying out the vaccination program in future, we will consider other groups. We have received NMRA approval to import the Pfizer vaccine and the Government is making arrangements to bring down Pfizer vaccines to the country,” he said, adding that data on vaccine safety for Pfizer is available and it can thus be administered to the elderly and persons with non-communicable diseases.

Questions were also raised about the shortage of AstraZeneca vaccines to administer the second dose to 600,000 Sri Lankans. At present, 925,242 persons have received the first dose of AstraZeneca but only 221,368 persons were fully vaccinated by 11 May.

“We are facing a shortage of 600,000 doses and are making a valiant effort as the vaccines cannot be procured from India due to the situation in the country. We are talking to countries that have excessive stocks of AstraZeneca to procure 600,000 doses and administer the second dose to people,” Dr. Fernandopulle said.

She added that mixing and matching vaccines cannot be considered at present as the World Health Organization does not recommend it. However, she said that studies are being carried out on the matter due to a global shortage of vaccines.


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