The first consignment of 500,000 doses of COVID–19 vaccines donated by the Government of India was officially received by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday, marking a breakthrough in the country’s fight against the pandemic that has gripped the world.
The handover, following the arrival of the air freighted vaccine at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), was by the Indian High Commissioner Dr. Gopal Baglay, reflecting sound bonds of neighbourly ties and goodwill between India and Sri Lanka.
The vaccine doses were donated to Sri Lanka following a request made by the President to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to use among frontline health workers. India branded the donation as ‘VaccineMaitri.’
The 500,000 doses are part of a planned procurement of three million by the Government to contain the spread of COVID-19 which has so far killed 297 Sri Lankans, whilst the cumulative patient count exceeded 60,000 by Wednesday with over 52,000 having recovered.
Developed by the Oxford University – UK, the AstraZeneca COVISHELD vaccine donated were manufactured at Serum Institute – Mumbai. The vaccine was approved for emergency use in Sri Lanka by National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) last Friday (22).
Vaccination will commence today at six main hospitals in the Western Province, where 150,000 health workers and 120,000 members of Tri-Forces, Police and security forces who are at the frontline of COVID prevention operations will be given first priority. Health Services Deputy Director General Dr. Hemantha Herath said the vaccination will be first used at the National Hospital – Colombo (NHSL) today.
“Around 25% of staff will be vaccinated daily, thereby the entire staff will be vaccinated within three to four days, whilst staff of other hospitals will start getting the vaccine from next week,” he said.
The other five hospitals where the vaccine will be used are Colombo North Teaching Hospital – Ragama, Homagama Base Hospital, Colombo East Base Hospital – Mulleriyawa, National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) and the Army Hospitals in Colombo and Panagoda.
Army Commander General Shavendra Silva said the COVISHELD vaccine will be injected in two doses per person.
“We had a few rounds of rehearsals for transport, storing, inoculation and other measures. This vaccination is restricted strictly to those whose names have already been listed and the entire program will remain very transparent,” he said.
General Silva, who is also the head of the National Operations Centre for the Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO), said that countries like Russia and China too have offered to send Sri Lanka the vaccines as a goodwill move in response to the President’s request in addition to what has been offered by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the coming weeks.
The NOCPCO has arranged the smooth transport of the vaccines to prioritised areas as recommended by the Presidential Task Force – headed by Principal Adviser to the President Lalith Weerathunga – as the vials have to be stored under specific temperature.
The first storage will take place at the Epidemiology Unit freezers before they are distributed among frontline Health workers, Tri-Force personnel, Policemen on priority basis after Army troops carry them to specific areas within the next 72 hours. The stock of vaccines will be distributed in refrigerated vehicles covering 25 districts.
Following the acceptance of the vaccine stock at the airport, Indian High Commissioner Dr. Baglay symbolically handed over a few samples to President Rajapaksa, who subsequently delivered them to Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control State Minister Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle.
A special memento was also awarded to the President by Indian High Commissioner symbolising the event.
Guided by ‘Neighbourhood First’ and SAGAR policies, India has gifted about five million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to neighbouring countries and those in the Gulf and Indian Ocean since 20 January 2021. Millions of doses of made in India COVID vaccines have also been exported to countries as far away as Latin America and West Asia, and will continue to reach those in the Caribbean and the Pacific too.
Apart from High Commissioner Dr. Baglay, Weeratunga, General Silva, State Ministers Dr. Fernandopulle and Dr. Channa Jayasumana, Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga, Health Services Director General Dr. Asela Gunawardena, Foreign Ministry Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage, Airport Aviation Services (Lanka) Ltd. Chairman General (Retd.) G.A. Chandrasiri, Sri Lanka Customs Director General Major General (Retd.) Vijitha Ravipriya and Indian Deputy High Commissioner Vinod Jacob were also present, along with several other senior officials.