Vaccine distribution: Campaign to prevent Dhammika-like crowds

  • Masses to be educated through media


By Hiranyada Dewasiri


With the aim of ensuring the peaceful distribution of vaccines and avoiding “Dhammika Paniya”-style crowds, the Ministry of Health will carry out an islandwide public awareness campaign on the importance of prioritising recognised target groups for initial vaccination.

“If we educate people on why we are prioritising these categories and build awareness, there won’t be any conflicts or tense situations,” Ministry of Health Epidemiology Unit Consultant Epidemiologist Dr. Deepa Gamage told The Morning yesterday (7).

Recent scenes of crowds flocking to collect a locally manufactured concoction made by one Dhammika Bandara in Kegalle, ignoring all social distancing guidelines, displayed the public’s eagerness to access anti-Covid medication.

Ministry of Health Epidemiology Unit Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera told The Morning yesterday that this campaign would include public addresses made by responsible officials through electronic media, and grassroots-level awareness conducted by health clinics and advertisements.

Speaking to The Morning on 6 January about the Health Ministry’s vaccination plan, Dr. Gamage said that persons above the age of 60, frontline health and non-health workers, persons with co-morbidities between 40-60 years of age, seaport and airport employees, and Army and Police officials will receive vaccinations in the initial stage.

In addition to the desire to prevent large crowds and related chaos, the Ministry is also concerned about reports of irregularities that occurred during the Government’s distribution of Rs. 5,000 as Covid-19 relief to families that were economically affected by the quarantine lockdowns. Many complained that those who deserved the relief did not receive it, and the Ministry is keen on avoiding similar problems with the vaccination programme.

Dr. Gamage said that the vaccines that Sri Lanka is set to receive through the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) COVAX Facility, which supports low and middle-income countries to obtain vaccines for 20% of their population, is sufficient to vaccinate the identified priority groups.

According to Dr. Gamage, Sri Lanka may get the COVAX Facility vaccine by late February. She said that the Ministry of Health is prepared to vaccinate as soon as vaccines are received.

“Persons above 60 amount to 14% of the population, while health sector workers, and the Army and Police forces will amount to 1%, so we can accommodate the target groups within the targeted 20%,” Dr. Gamage said, noting that the Ministry’s current target is to protect the people that need to be protected.

“We saw that lots of elderly persons died from Covid-19, so they are a risk category. They will be identified through the data available with the Department for the Registration of Persons.”

Vaccination for these individuals would be distributed through the Medical Officers of Health (MOH) network, the grama niladhari (GN) network, and the midwife network, as they possess the relevant data on the GN divisions that individuals have been assigned, Dr. Gamage elaborated.

Persons above 60 can be vaccinated through hospitals or MOH networks while persons with co-morbidities between the ages of 40 and 60 will be vaccinated through data obtained from their health clinics, she said.

“Diabetes clinics, clinics for non-communicable diseases, and heart disease clinics have lists of patients who fall within the co-morbidities category. We will assign the hospitals to vaccinate these persons between the ages of 40-60.”

According to Dr. Gamage, vaccinating frontline workers including all health sector workers is essential to ensuring that their services are not interrupted.

“We ask for the health sector to be vaccinated so that the people who treat the ill will be protected and their service could continue.”

When queried about Sri Lanka’s own process of vaccine procurement, Dr. Gamage said that most vaccines are still in clinical trial stages and that the Ministry has not decided on which vaccine to procure.

“We are still getting ready,” she said.

This procurement process, which moves Sri Lanka beyond the initial 20%, will allow the target groups to be expanded to cover other persons facing higher possibilities of being exposed to Covid-19.

“Persons from areas facing an outbreak, persons working in factories and companies, and university and school students will be in this group that is of economic and social importance,” Dr. Gamage said, adding that a plan to move towards this step has not been prepared yet since the amount of vaccines that will be procured by the Government beyond the 20% has not been decided so far.

“The procurement of necessary vaccines can only be done once vaccines are produced in abundance.”

When questioned about whether vaccines will be available in the market for private purchase, Dr. Gamage explained that this won’t happen soon since they cannot allow Covid-19 vaccination to become a trade during a time of limited availability, and that vaccines will be available for private purchase only when it is produced in abundance.