Covid-19 vaccinations: Indecision places PHIs, public at risk 

  • PHI Union urges detailed circular 
  • State Minister to talk with technical comm. 
  • 30+ in Colombo, Gampaha high risk areas eligible
  • COVAX consignment due date yet unknown 

By Sarah Hannan

The Covid-19 vaccination programme to inoculate the general public hit several roadblocks last week, due to the indecisiveness of certain authorities, causing unrest among the groups that were gathering to be vaccinated, and thereby putting all parties including Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) in peril. 

State Minister of Primary Health Care, Epidemics, and Covid Disease Control Dr. Sudharshini Fernandopulle, speaking to The Sunday Morning, said: “These incidents could have been avoided if the Medical Officers of Health (MOHs) were adhering to the original strategic plan. Unfortunately, they too were caught amidst the politics and were confused when the age category was changed from time to time and the public too became irritated over the change of plans.” 

Dr. Fernandopulle further noted that she is now communicating with the technical committee members to rectify this matter, so that the vaccination programmes that are to be rolled out from this week onwards in the suburbs would be conducted in an orderly manner. 

The PHIs Union Secretary M. Balasooriya, when contacted by The Sunday Morning, said that the instructions that are issued by the Ministry of Health to the MOHs have been changing daily, and that it was challenging for their on-ground PHIs to disseminate the information to the communities in the area and to inform them to arrive at the designated vaccination centres. 

“The situation in the Gampaha District has got out of hand. Therefore, we have informed the Ministry of Health that our PHIs will not be engaging in the vaccination programme to create awareness among the public or to step in to control the crowds at the vaccination centres,” Balasooriya added. 

From the time the vaccination programme rolled out to the public in the Western Province, the PHIs had been tasked with communicating the times and the age groups that are supposed to be inoculated. However, the mishaps that took place last week have now pushed them to question as to whether they are risking their lives and the public due to the indecisive manner in which the higher ups are acting. 

The PHIs Union also requested that they are urging the Ministry of Health to issue a detailed circular on the vaccination programme that will indicate the priority list and the dates the vaccinations would be made available to different districts, so that the MOHs could co-ordinate the initiative and it could be done in a more orderly manner.

However, following Dr. Fernandopulle’s revelation, Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunewardena had on 26 February issued directives to the Western Province Directors of Health Services and Regional Directors of Health Services in the Colombo and Gampaha Districts to identify areas of high risk. “From 27 February onwards, we have instructed that persons above the age of 30 are eligible to receive Covid-19 vaccines in the grama niladhari divisions that are identified as having reported the highest numbers of Covid-19 cases and Covid-19 deaths,” Dr.  Gunewardena told The Sunday Morning.

Meanwhile, although there was speculation of the first consignment of vaccinations that was to be received free of charge through the World Health Organisation’s COVAX Facility, the Ministry of Health is yet to be notified about the exact dates they could expect its arrival. 

The Serum Institute of India (SII) meanwhile on 25 February delivered a consignment of 500,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to Sri Lanka, which was procured by the State Pharmaceuticals Corporation (SPC). This was the first batch out of the 10 million doses of the vaccine that the Attorney General approved under the essential medicine purchases last week.