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More vaccines for the military, less for doctors?

09 Jul 2021

  • Fewer vaccine doses to health sector centres: GMOA

  • Blames higher allocation to military-run vaccine drive

  • State Ministry denies allegation, commends military efficiency 

By Buddhika Samaraweera   The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) alleged that the number of Covid-19 vaccine doses supplied to the vaccination centres operated by the health sector has been significantly reduced by health authorities as a higher number of doses are being channeled to the new vaccination centres run by the Tri-Forces. Speaking to The Morning, GMOA Media Committee Member, Dr. Hansamal Weerasuriya said that the health sector should be solely in charge of the national vaccine rollout. “Hospitals are the first thing that comes to mind whenever there is an epidemic. Therefore, the health sector should be solely tasked with the rolling out of the vaccines. But at present the number of vaccinations received by the health sector is low.” Dr. Weerasuriya said that the GMOA believes this reduction in the number of vaccine doses being provided to the health sector run centres is due to the new vaccination centres operated by the military. He claimed that even though there are about 133 Covid-19 vaccination centres in the Western Province that are run by the health sector, those centres are not provided with sufficient amounts of vaccines. According to Dr. Weerasuriya, since vaccination is a task to be performed by the health sector, all the relevant responsibilities should be handed over to the health sector. While appreciating the support of the military or any other sector in carrying out the vaccination, he stressed that the health sector should be the main sector in carrying out the vaccination. “In the recent past, we have been able to provide a large number of Covid-19 vaccines a day. Accordingly, if we get the required number of vaccines, the health sector has the capacity to provide at least one million vaccines covering the entire country daily. The military, politicians or any other party can however extend their support to the health sector to coordinate vaccination programmes,” he claimed. The vaccination drive against Covid-19 commenced in hospitals run by the Tri-Forces on 5 July and anyone from the Western Province above the age of 30 could get the vaccine from 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. When contacted by The Morning to inquire about the allegations made by the GMOA, Secretary to the State Ministry of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Dr. S.K. Ratnayake stated that there is no conscious or intentional reduction in the vaccine doses being supplied to the health sector run vaccination centres. However, he commended the Tri- forces for running an efficient vaccination programme and compared it favourably to those run by the health sector. “The strategy used by the Tri- forces for Covid-19 vaccination is different. Especially, the Army is very active. They divide the labour and carry out the vaccination in an efficient manner, so their speed is higher,” he said. He also claimed that the behaviour of the people at the vaccination centres run by the Tri- forces was at a satisfactory level. “For example, in a vaccination centre run by the military, people are less likely to get into conflict if the vaccine is over at a particular time, but at the Medical Officer of Health (MOH) offices, people do not behave like that.”  Dr. Ratnayake added that it is “clear from the media reports” that the vaccination process is being carried out in a very systematic and efficient manner at the vaccination centres run by the military. When queried about the concerns of the doctors about the qualifications of the military personnel to administer vaccines to the general public, he said that all military officials involved in the vaccination have the requisite qualifications. “Be it Doctors, Nurses and other relevant officers attached to the Health Ministry or those attached to the Defence Ministry, all of them have completed the required qualifications after studying in Sri Lankan universities and medical colleges. So there is no issue in employing them to carry out the vaccination since they have fulfilled relevant qualifications.” He urged the health sector and the military to work together towards achieving the targets of the national vaccination drive. “If any party sees this programme through a narrow, personal lense, it is regrettable.  As a country, our goal is to vaccinate about 70% of the population. That purpose must be achieved. Both the Health sector and Military work very responsibly. So there is no issue.”  Speaking to the media recently, the National Operations Centre for the Prevention of the Covid-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO) Head and Army Commander, General Shavendra Silva said that the vaccination programme by the military was launched after receiving one million Chinese Sinopharm vaccines and that they should be made available to the public as soon as possible instead of keeping them in stores. He also said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had instructed that the Covid-19 vaccine be given to those over 30 years of age in the Western Province due to the high number of Covid-19 patients being reported in the Western Province. He further said that if the Covid-19 vaccines are received in sufficient quantities, it was expected to continue the vaccination programmes at Tri-Forces hospitals and camps. Attempts to contact Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Health Ministry Secretary Dr. Sanjeewa Munasinghe, the Health Services Director General Dr. Asela Gunawardena and the Epidemiology Unit Acting Head, Dr. Samitha Ginige, were unsuccessful.

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