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A plea for vaccination

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The President of Sri Lanka had said that the only solution with any certainty to the Covid pandemic is vaccination. This is true because prevention is less effective when dealing with a highly infectious and elusive virus capable of mutating into more and more infections and deadly strains like the Covid-19 virus. On the other hand, a vaccine could prevent it more effectively or reduce its effects significantly. A country cannot be locked down for ever whether partially or totally, a way out has to be found and the only way is to vaccinate sufficient numbers to achieve herd immunity. However no vaccine gives 100% immunity but all of them that are being used at present are effective in preventing serious illness necessitating hospitalization and death which is a huge bonus to poor countries. This is not to suggest that preventive measures like face masks, washing hands, social distance and avoiding mass gathering are ineffective and unnecessary, on the contrary they are essential until sufficient numbers are immunized.

Importance and the effectiveness of the Covid vaccines cannot be down played. This is why countries like the US which were ravaged by the virus are going pell mell with their vaccination programmes and closing in on achieving herd immunity. Europe at present has 53 vaccine manufacturing sites and is planning to have more of them. They have delivered 100 million to member countries and plan to produce sufficient doses to immunize 70% of their population by end of July and 3 billion doses by end of the year. They are planning to have a near normal Summer. These countries know the value of vaccines. Herd immunity in relation to major infectious disease has not been achieved by the natural process of the infection but by vaccination. A good example is Measles.

However, there are practical problems with regard to adequate vaccination, such as insufficient availability, cost, logistical issues, people’s acceptance and even politics particularly in a country like Sri Lanka where any issue is maximally politicized by politicians of both sides of the divide. Global politics also could be a factor with world powers expecting hegemonic favours. Sri Lanka received a gift of vaccine from India at the beginning and started a roll out very efficiently but unfortunately it has run into snags as the supply of Indian vaccine is uncertain as India is engulfed in an unprecedented catastrophe due to the ruthless pandemic. It has also received Chinese vaccines but seems to be reluctant to use it until WHO approval is given.

Sri Lanka may also receive the Russian Sputnik vaccine which has been approved by the WHO. It plans to purchase about 13 million doses which would be sufficient to vaccinate about 3% of the population. According to experts like Christellu Liboudo MD at least 80-90% of the population (this figure varies according to the virus) has to be immunized either by previous infection or vaccination to reach herd immunity. This means we will need quite a lot of vaccine doses to come out of the mire. From where could we get them. India has to immunize its own population of one billion before it could think of giving it to others. Prime Minister Modi is unpopular for blundering in the management of the pandemic and will not want to make it worse by depriving the life saving vaccine to their own people. Other vaccine producing countries like the US, UK may not give us the vaccine, they are accused of hoarding the vaccine in excess of their own needs. Could you blame them, though WHO calls for equitable distribution of vaccine the citizens are priority in a struggle for survival.

The only vaccine producing country which has no urgent need for it is China. It has vaccinated 200 million of its people and is planning to vaccinate the rest at the rate of one million a day! It has about five vaccines which are ready for Stage 111 trials. None of them has received WHO approval. Two of these vaccines Sinopharm and Sinovac have entered the last phase to join the COVAX vaccine initiative of the WHO and a final decision is expected before 3rd of May 2021. WHO has pledged Sri Lanka to supply vaccines sufficient for 20% of our population through the COVAX programme. But due to lack of supplies it has not been possible to meet this commitment. However with the approval of the two Chinese vaccines hopefully these would be available in Sri Lanka sooner than later. China is increasing its vaccine producing capacity and would soon develop into be the largest producer.

Chinese vaccines are being used in 65 countries at present despite the fact that they are not approved by the WHO. These include 13 countries in Latin America, 25 in Africa, 22 in Asia and 5 in Europe. And they include countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand which are more developed than Sri Lanka. In the past week Thailand and Philippines received their 3rd batch of Chinese vaccines.

It is claimed that Chinese vaccines are less effective particularly against variants of the Covid virus. The mutants would escape detection by antibodies but they would be mopped up by T Cell mechanism that has been boosted by the vaccine. This why most of the Chinese vaccines are effective against mutants found in the UK, South Africa and other countries (Global Times, 28.3.2021). In a trial conducted in Brazil 252 new cases were detected out of which 85 had been vaccinated with CoronaVac, a Chinese vaccine, while 167 had a placebo and none in the vaccinated group had to be hospitalized. The vaccine could have a role in preventing severe disease in every country says Paul Offit a vaccine scientist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania (Nature, 15.01.2021).

China is Sri Lanka’s friend in need from the time of the Rice Rubber pact that rescued the country in 1952 when no other country would come to its assistance. It was not just a trade agreement but one that was favourable to Sri Lanka and Chinese magnanimity was evident in the agreement. And just last March again China came to the rescue of Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. Could we afford to be neutral and not aligned with a strong friend when we have so many ruthless enemies hovering above as shown at the UNHRC. And could we continue to be reluctant to use Chinese vaccines if we are serious about coming out of this abyss.

N.A.de S. Amaratunga



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Opinion

Mrs Paripooranam Rajasundaram- A Gracious Lady

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I first came to know Mrs Pariapooranam Rajasundaram, who was born in Singapore on October 25, 1935 while serving a short stint in Jaffna with police intelligence. Her late husband who called her “Pari” was my very close friend, Mr. Vaithilingam Rajasunderam, the former principal of Victoria College, Chullipuram who was introduced to me by my friend and police batch mate, late Tissa Satharasinghe, who was the Personal Security Officer, to the late Mr T.B. Ilangaratne in 1971.

Mrs Rajasundaram was blessed with three sons and a daughter and several grandchildren and can be truly described as a very faithful spouse and dedicated mother, mother-in-law, grandmother and a great grandmother to the family of which she was matriarch.

My short spell in Jaffna in 1973 brought me closer to the Rajasunderams who celebration their 25th wedding anniversary in 1974. Theirs was an open house and my wife and sisters too came to know them well.

Mrs Rajasundram and her husband were good hosts and his assassination was a shock to all of us. It was then she became part of our family as she lived with us briefly till she obtained a UK visa to join her daughter and son-in-law there.

Many years later when she was living in England, I had joined KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and my family used to spend vacations with them in Cockfosters in North London. Mrs Rajasundaram treated us to sumptuous meals lavishing attention on us. She was very fond of my wife and two children and had a heart of gold. A devout Hindu she never failed in her religious obligations, lived within her means and was never greedy for what she could not afford. She firmly believed in being patient and willingly gave to those in need.

She was a lady who was selfless, full of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, very virtuous, and full of love and character. I can say of her: “People may forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel!”

My prayer as a Christian is that God grants you eternal rest.

NIHAL DE ALWIS

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Opinion

Independence celebrations for whose benefit?

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Celebrating what? Bankruptcy, corruption and nepotism to name a few. Surely isn’t there one MP among 225 who feel we have nothing to celebrate. We say we cannot pay govt. servants’ salaries in time, the pensioners’ their entitlements. A thousand more failures confront us.

In our whole post-independence history such a situation has never arisen. We should be mourning our lost prestige, our lost prosperity our depleting manpower. Our youth in vast numbers are leaving the country for greener pastures. We should be conserving every cent to live, not to celebrate a non-existent independence. We should be mourning, walking the streets in sack cloth and ashes in protest at this wanton waste of money by an irresponsible government.

I can’t understand this mentality. The forces are also our young men who feel for their fellow men and women. Maybe their lot is a little better than the rest of us. But how can you order them to go parade? They cannot refuse. It is an unwritten or written code that they have to obey orders without question. I feel sorry for them. All that spit and polish – for whose benefit? Definitely not ours. We will be mourning in silence in our homes.

Padmini Nanayakkara.

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Aftermath Of Mr. Ranjan Wijeratne’s Assassination

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It was on Saturday March 2, 1991 when that fateful LTTE bomb blast shattered the life out of Mr. Ranjan Wijeratne, Minister of Plantations and Deputy Minister of Defence, in front of the Havelock Road University Women’s Hostel opposite Keppetipola Mawatha.

Mr. Wijeratne used to take the same route from home to office every day. The LTTE had monitored his movements and found that it would be easy to target him on his way to office from a strategic point after receiving the information of his departure from home.

The LTTE targeted his vehicle right in front of the University of Colombo Women’s Hostel opposite Keppetipola Mawatha. The suicide bomber crashed into the Deputy Minister’s vehicle and killed the Minister instantaneously.

I had dropped our elder son at Royal College for scouting and then went to the public library to return some books and borrow new ones. After having done that, I was returning home when I saw a large cloud of black smoke going up from somewhere on Havelock Road. As I neared Thummulla junction, a university vehicle (I was Registrar of the Colombo University) was going in the opposite direction.

I stopped it and asked the driver what had happened. He said the Shanthi Vihar restaurant at the Thummulla had been set on fire. The police did not allow vehicles into Havelock Road from Thummulla. I parked the car on Reid Avenue between Thummulla and Lauries Road and walked down the Havleock Road to see what exactly had happened.

As I got onto Havelock Road, a policeman accosted me and told me that I cannot be allowed to proceed. Fortunately, at that moment the OIC of the Bamabalapitiya Police station, Mr. Angunawela, came to that spot and recognizing me told the police constable to allow me to proceed.

As I walked down I saw the damage caused. But there were no signs of any vehicle or any dead bodies as the police had got everything removed. There was a large gaping hole on the road where the blast had occurred. But immediately this was filled up and that section of the road carpeted.

I do not know who had ordered it and why it was done in such a hurry. There were pieces of human flesh hanging from the overhead telephone wires. The blast had also affected the house in front where there was a P& S outlet and a lady who had come to buy something had got her eyes blinded by the shrapnel thrown by the blast.

The parapet wall and the Temple flower (araliya) trees that had been grown just behind the wall were all gone. As I went into the hostel, I saw that the front wall of the hostel building badly damaged. When I went in the girls in the hostel were looking terrified and shivering with fright.

Two of the undergraduates who had gone out of the hostel as they had to sit an examination in the university had got very badly injured and they been rushed to the national hospital. Later one girl who was from Kobeigane, a remote village in the Kurunegala area, succumbed to her injuries. The university paid for her funeral. The security guard who had been close to the gate was thrown up and landed back on the ground. Fortunately, he had no injuries other than feeling groggy.

The next job was to evacuate the hostelers from the building. I telephoned the university office and found the Senior Assistant Registrar in charge of examinations was in office. I told her what had happened and to come to the hostel in a van. Thereafter both she and I packed all the hostelers in the van and sent them to the Bullers Lane Women’s hostel. This was done in three trips.

On inspecting the damage done to the hostel I thought the building would have to be demolished and a new building constructed to replace it. However, I contacted an Engineer, Mr. Upasena, at the Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau (CECB,) who came, inspected the damage to the building and stated that he will get it repaired to be stronger than what it was.

He stated that it might cost around Rs, 20,000/- to get the repair done. I contacted NORAD and they agreed to give the funds required for the repair and renovation. Mr. Manickam from NORAD came and inspected the building and agreed to get much more done than what we wanted repaired and renovated. The repair and renovation were done very quickly and the hostelers were able to move in again.

The reopening ceremony was attended by the then Ambassador to Norway, Mr. Manickam and the Vice-Chancellor. The Vice- Chancellor thanked the Ambassador, Mr. Manickam and the CECB for getting the hostel repaired and renovated to be used again. He never mentioned what I had done to get this hostel repaired and habitable again. That is gratitude!

HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

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