News

Covid-19 booster shots: Pfizer priority list undecided

  • Await info on vaccinating teens from area MoH: Ministry to parents
  • Multimillion-dollar PCR test facility near BIA nobody’s baby?

By Aazam Ameen

Health authorities are awaiting the confirmation of the number of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines that they will receive to plan the anticipated rollout of a booster shot, The Sunday Morning learnt. The Government indicated that it plans to administer a third dose (booster) for those who received both Covid-19 vaccine doses.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health had, in “principle”, decided to vaccinate teenagers over the age of 16. The inoculation drive of this demographic continues to be conducted on an area-by-area basis, The Sunday Morning learnt.

Responding to a query by The Sunday Morning on the status of the proposed booster jab and the target groups which are expected to receive these doses, Deputy Director General of Public Health Services Dr. Hemantha said that the Ministry of Health was unable to comment on the plans at this juncture.

“Pfizer is not freely available in Sri Lanka. We are in the process of purchasing the doses. However, we are not sure of how many doses we will be able to procure. For example, if we receive five million doses, then we can announce that everyone can obtain the third dose. However, if we receive about one or two million doses, then we will decide on which categories of citizens will receive it first,” he explained.

Commenting on the vaccination of teenagers, Dr. Herath said the Ministry advises parents to wait until the respective Medical Officer of Health (MoH) assigned to their area discloses more information on when the vaccination drive will expand to their areas.

Explaining the reason behind the inability to roll out vaccinations for teenagers islandwide, Dr. Herath told The Sunday Morning that it had to do with the capabilities of the medical staff, relative to their workloads.

“We have, in principle, decided to vaccinate all persons above the age of 16. However, the vaccination of this age group is currently taking place in specific areas. Depending on the workload of medical staff across the country, vaccinating this age group will be rolled out across the country gradually,” he said.

Due to there being many areas in which this age group of citizens requires vaccination, Dr. Herath explained that the Ministry of Health was unable to predict where the drive will expand to next, adding that parents should wait for more information from the respective MoH assigned to their area.

Dr. Herath further explained that in terms of the vaccination of schoolchildren, all respective schools will inform parents directly of when and where the vaccination efforts would take place.

When queried about the lack of enthusiasm expressed by youths of the country to get vaccinated, Dr. Herath stated that this trend is reducing as more youths were getting inoculated.

“Most of these people who were reluctant to get vaccinated were waiting for Pfizer doses. Now they have realised that Pfizer will be administered as third doses, so they are happy to receive Sinopharm as the first two doses,” he stated.

Additionally, it was mentioned that several countries having relaxed or removed requirements for specific vaccines, in order for travellers to gain access to such nations, was a contributing factor towards increased vaccination rates among youths in Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, on the subject of the future of the rapid PCR testing lab, which was set up at a cost of $ 5 million, in proximity to Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) to carry out tests on arriving air passengers, Dr. Herath was unable to comment, as the venture had “nothing to do with the Health Ministry”.

However, The Sunday Morning learnt that the Ministry of Health may use the lab to conduct tests if the need arises.

“If there is an increased Covid-19 risk from inbound travellers, then we might have to think about using the lab. At this moment, we have removed the requirement for on-arrival PCR tests for passengers who are fully vaccinated and have a negative Covid-19 PCR test report 72 hours prior to their departure from the origin country,” he said.

When The Sunday Morning contacted Ministry of Tourism Secretary S. Hettiarachchi for more information on the same, he did not comment on the matter.

Despite several attempts to contact Airport and Aviation Services Ltd. (AASL) Chairman Maj. Gen. (Retd.) G.A. Chandrasiri in this regard, our attempts proved to be futile.