Second dose, second chance
Half a million Sri Lankans can now breathe a sigh of relief. After discussions with several parties and months of waiting, it was announced last week that Sri Lanka is set to receive more Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines before the end of this month from Japan. Subsequently, the health authorities announced that they had decided to administer the second dose of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine to those who had received the first dose of the same.
Comparing the circumstances under which the first dose of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was administered against how the second dose is to be administered, Sri Lanka might want to pay more attention to its implementation of the vaccination drive. This would help ensure that it does not repeat the same mistakes it made before, because this is a second chance for those who had received the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine as their first dose – as well as for the Government.
When the first dose of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was administered, the situation was different, and there were issues on the part of both the health authorities and the people. While the health authorities were struggling to decide who should be prioritised for the first dose of the vaccine due to the very limited number of doses Sri Lanka was able to acquire at that point in time, the people were in a conundrum as to whether they should receive the vaccine even if they had the opportunity, due to unfamiliarity about getting vaccinated.
When it comes to what happened on the part of the health authorities, there were several practical issues, or shortcomings. In the initial stage of the vaccination drive, when Oxford AstraZeneca was the only option Sri Lanka had, allegations were levelled that those eligible for the vaccine could not get it as expected, as the priority list the health authorities had introduced was not adhered to at all times. In fact, Sri Lanka saw several incidents where people outside the priority list tried to get the vaccine based on personal connections. Adding fuel to the fire, the website introduced by health authorities for citizens to register for vaccination was not functional for several weeks.
However, that is the past. Even though issues and shortcomings may be inevitable when it comes to a vaccination programme Sri Lankans had never envisaged it would have to carry out, the administration of the second dose of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine must not face the same fate, in a context where the people have started expressing more enthusiasm about getting vaccinated and the country is recording a lot more Covid-19 cases than it did when the vaccination drive commenced.
This news comes in a context where the Government has decided to suspend administering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to people who had obtained the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine as their first dose, which was a temporary mix-and-match attempt caused by the difficulties in acquiring more Oxford AstraZeneca doses, following the uncontrollable Covid-19 outbreak in India and the limited manufacturing of Oxford AstraZeneca doses by the Serum Institute of India.
That is why Sri Lanka must strive to get the full benefit of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine during the administration of the second dose, and that is why the mistakes the country made during the initial stage of the vaccination drive must not be repeated. Also, perhaps a long term lesson the Government can learn from the abovementioned situation is that it should take into account the number of doses it has already secured before making vaccination plans.
Most importantly, as The Morning emphasised yesterday (21), let us not forget that the people’s active participation is also crucial in this endeavour.