Vaccine imports by private sector: No objections says Government

  • Manufacturer-accredited firm must submit plan  

  • Cites indemnity issues for pvt. sector reticence  

  • Hands tied due to global supply shortage: SLCPI  

By Aazam Ameen  


If private sector healthcare companies that are accredited by vaccine manufacturers submit a plan to the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) stating that they are able to supply Covid-19 vaccines, the GoSL will have no objection in allowing such a proposal to progress, The Sunday Morning learnt.  

The Sunday Morning was informed of this by the Principal Advisor to the President and the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force for National Deployment and Vaccination Plan for the Covid-19 Vaccine Lalith Weeratunga.  

However, Weeratunga also noted that the private sector has not been able to submit such a plan and that a firm offer has not been made by them to date.  

Elaborating further, he mentioned that this is due to the fact that all Covid-19 vaccines currently available have been approved by the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) only for emergency use, and that therefore, an issue of indemnity exists, which has in turn resulted in manufacturers giving preference to working directly with governments.  

“As these are emergency use vaccines, even though it is unlikely, if something were to go wrong with an individual after getting inoculated, the manufacturer of the said vaccine will be concerned about issues such as compensation. Due to this, manufacturers prefer to work directly with governments, as they give them the assurance that if something detrimental were to happen, compensation will be provided by the respective government and not the manufacturer,” Weeratunga explained.  

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Sri Lanka Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry (SLCPI) President and Hemas Holdings Group Chief Executive Officer Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson said that this preference for working directly with governments has to do with two additional factors.  

One is that the manufacturers seek to ensure that there is no undue profiteering that takes place, as most vaccines are supplied at the cost price. The other is that the manufacturers have to ensure that the vaccines are accessible to all, regardless of the socioeconomic status of the end consumer. According to Wilson, manufacturers are of the notion that if the private sector was to be involved, these two factors would be difficult to manage.  

Wilson also added that the private sector is currently unable to import vaccines due to a global supply issue. “Vaccine supplies are currently insufficient to meet the global demand. Even though the Government may not have an objection to the private sector importing vaccines, there is nothing we can do due to the shortage,” she said.  

Wilson also highlighted that the private sector has no intention of purchasing vaccines through intermediary such traders.  

“As importers and authorised agents, we are not permitted to engage in such illegal transactions since there is a possibility that the stocks supplied by intermediary traders could be counterfeit vaccines or vaccines which have not been traded through accepted supply chains,” she explained.  

Weeratunga echoed similar sentiments, noting that the Government also seeks to steer clear from vaccines supplied by such non-accredited intermediary traders.  

The State Pharmaceuticals Corporation (SPC) Chairman Dr. Prasanna Gunasena was unavailable for comment.