The second chance vaccine

The major hope of most Sri Lankans is that the Covid-19 pandemic will soon come to an end, now that the Covid-19 vaccination programme has begun. However, being merely hopeful seldom saved anybody, and sometimes, what saves us is nothing other than genuine, determined efforts.

Prior to the emergence of the second wave of Covid-19 in late 2020, Sri Lankans strongly believed that the Government was their saviour due to the successful management of Covid-19. In fact, before the second wave of Covid-19, the main and perhaps the only factor that was considered to gauge the Government’s success was how well it had curtailed the spread of Covid-19. However, it all changed after the second wave of Covid-19 emerged, and Sri Lankans began to think that the Government should and could do much better.

Then came the much-awaited Covid-19 vaccination programme, sparking hope among the public, even though it took some time for the vaccination programme to reach the public according to a “priority list”.

Like what happened with many programmes by the Government, the priority list too was introduced with immense enthusiasm. While the first on the priority list were frontline healthcare workers and defence forces personnel, due to their engagement with Covid-19 prevention efforts, the second phase of the programme was predominantly for the public. It has, however, turned out to be not as impressive, with increasing claims that the Covid-19 management efforts, particularly the second phase of vaccination, are not being implemented properly.

The second phase of the vaccination programme came under fire owing to several reasons, including the website that was launched for the public to register with the health authorities to be vaccinated not being functional, and the much-boasted-about priority list, which, from the looks of it, is being violated by some administering the vaccination programme. Giving priority to Members of Parliament under the second phase was also criticised by some.

The Morning yesterday (23) reported one such incident where certain people were denied the vaccination as they were not from a list of a popular politician. The health authorities also confirmed that health workers are being influenced by certain parties to administer the vaccination outside the priority list.

With rising claims that the current Covid-19 management programme has a number of aspects that need to be strengthened and rectified emerged the long-term issues Sri Lanka has been facing in the past few years, especially last year, which, albeit not as noticeable due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Sri Lanka was busy dealing with. In fact, issues such as environmental destruction, poverty, irregularities in the public sector, arbitrary decisions by various high-ranking figures, and unemployment were pressing issues last year, too; however, in the face of the bigger issue – i.e. the Covid-19 pandemic – they seemed trivial. However, they only died down; they did not get resolved. All factors that caused these issues still remain and affect the Covid-19-hit public more.

In essence, the Government’s image and position are not what they were a year ago, when the entire Sri Lanka was revelling in the fact that the Government got the Covid-19 situation under control. However, this was when there were fewer cases and fewer deaths caused by a Covid-19 virus that was not as aggressive, and the public has started noticing other issues the country is facing.

Even though the continuation of the Covid-19 vaccination programme is unarguably a progressive step, Covid-19 cases and deaths are on the rise, and loopholes in the Covid-19 management efforts are also not very rare. On top of them, there is a growing concern about the extent to which the public would be able to get vaccinated, and how effective this programme would be.

According to Acting Minister of Health Prof. Channa Jayasumana, the Serum Institute of India (SII) has confirmed the delivery of a consignment of 500,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to Sri Lanka on Thursday (25) night.

On Monday (22), the Cabinet of Ministers approved the purchase of 10 million Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines for $ 52.5 million from Serum Institute (Pvt.) Ltd., India. The Cabinet of Ministers also approved a proposal by Acting Minister of Health Prof. Jayasumana to enter into an agreement between the AstraZeneca institute in Britain and the State Pharmaceuticals Corporation of Sri Lanka to purchase a further 3.5 million of Covid-19 vaccines manufactured by the said institute. Furthermore, it was decided to sign the Standardised Indemnification Agreement submitted by the Covax mechanism in order to expedite vaccination under the Covax facility.

Sri Lanka’s approach to ridding the country of the Covid-19 pandemic has its ups and downs. If the Government pays adequate attention to rectifying the shortcomings, the successful management of Covid-19 could be the salvation of both the public and the Government. Rarely do second chances present themselves, but with these developments on the vaccine procurement front, the Government certainly has a new opportunity to turn around its fortunes and script a positive narrative. Whether it grabs the opportunity, only time will tell.