Covid-19 AstraZeneca doses: Vaccines expected on 19th

  • Manufacturer, origin of stocks, doses kept under wraps 

  • Donation handled by Health Ministry; SPC out of picture 

  • After 2nd dose jab, rest assigned to Kegalle District  

By Maheesha Mudugamuwa

The newest stocks of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine doses are scheduled to arrive in the country next week but details of the origin of the vaccine doses, their manufacturer, and the exact number of doses expected are yet to be announced, The Sunday Morning learnt. 

It is learnt that the vaccine stocks would be a donation and therefore, is not handled by the State Pharmaceuticals Corporation (SPC) which at present acts as the government agent for all vaccine purchases. The donation is said to be handled by the Health Ministry. 

Nevertheless, details of the vaccine stocks are known to the Health Services Director General (DGHS), the Health Minister, and the Health Ministry Secretary, The Sunday Morning learnt. 

When contacted, Health Ministry Communications Director and Public Health Services Deputy Director General Dr. Hemantha Herath said that the DGHS and the Health Secretary had given an assurance that the stocks would arrive in Sri Lanka on 19 July. 

It is learnt that a shipment of 1.4 million AstraZeneca vaccines will arrive in the country next week and after administering the second doses of the vaccine, the rest will be administered in the Kegalle District.  

“We have also stopped the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination because of the new AstraZeneca stocks we are expecting,” he added. 

The administering of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine as the second dose for recipients of the first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine was suspended by the Government last week, following confirmation that more AstraZeneca stocks will arrive in July.

Accordingly, it was reported that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had confirmed that over one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will arrive in Sri Lanka by 19 July through the World Health Organisation (WHO) co-led Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility, according to Dr. Herath.  

He did not, however, specify an exact number of doses. 

The manufacturer of the vaccines and its origin have also not been announced yet. 

The WHO lists two versions of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use: the one produced by AstraZeneca-SKBio (the Republic of Korea – South Korea) and the Serum Institute of India (SII). Sri Lanka has so far administered the Covishield brand of the vaccine manufactured by the SII. 

When contacted, SPC General Manager Dinusha Dassanayake told The Sunday Morning that the SPC did not have any details with regard to the new vaccine stocks, as the consignment is handled by the Health Ministry. 

Sri Lanka started its Covid-19 vaccination programme in late January, after receiving 500,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine from India as a gift. Subsequently, Sri Lanka placed orders with the SII for more doses of the Covishield vaccine. However, the inoculation programme was affected, as the institute suspended vaccine exports, due to a spike in the number of Covid-19 cases in India. 

Since then, the Government has struggled to secure AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine doses to administer the second dose to over 600,000 people who have already received the first dose of the vaccination, until it was later decided to go for a vaccine mix-and-match solution with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. 

Attempts to contact the DGHS, the Health Minister, and the Health Secretary were futile. 

Meanwhile, two SriLankan Airlines flights departed to China yesterday (10) to bring two million doses of Covid-19 Sinopharm vaccines, the largest single consignment to Sri Lanka so far. They were expected to return this morning, according to Prof. Jayasumana.