Notably, the government did not budget for a vaccination strategy in its National Budget for 2021. As such, any spending would have to be allocated through an emergency budgetary allocation. The government could potentially reallocate funding from other sectors or even reallocate from within the health sector. These reallocations, for example, could occur through built-in fiscal space for public investments in the budget, postponements or revisions to non-essential government spending initiatives such as non-essential small-scale infrastructure projects
By Harini Weerasekera and Kithmina Hewage
An effective vaccination strategy is a necessity for countries to move beyond COVID-19. However, it also requires careful policymaking to balance the financial cost of purchasing and delivering vaccines while stimulating economic growth. This article, based on a recent IPS analysis, provides an overview of the approximate costs associated with the COVID-19 vaccination rollout in Sri Lanka and evaluates policy options to finance the initiative.
While there is no universally agreed level, considering the emergence of new variants, many experts agree that a country should vaccinate around 80% of its population to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19. This translates to 17.5 million Sri Lankans. Thus far, Sri Lanka has received or is expected to receive vaccine donations and other financial assistance from the likes of the World Health Organization’s COVAX Facility to cover approximately 20% of the population.
Based on publicly available proxy data, as detailed in Table 1 below, assuming that 20% of the population will be financed through the WHO COVAX scheme, the total cost of self-financing another 60% of the population is USD 139.1 million. These costs include both the cost of purchasing the cheapest vaccine (AstraZeneca-Oxford) and the immunisation delivery costs.
In a recent study, the World Bank estimates that for the South Asian region, the average per person vaccination cost amounts to USD 12 to receive one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, under certain assumptions. This costing consists of the full vaccine deployment cost per person, which includes the vaccine dosage cost along with the international airfare and other delivery costs.
Using this basis of costing, financing two doses of the vaccine for 60% of Sri Lanka’s population would amount to USD 336 million. This is over double the minimum estimate made earlier using local proxy data. As such, a range of USD 140-336 million (LKR 27-66 billion) can be treated as a minimum and maximum estimate range for financing the long-term vaccination strategy in Sri Lanka. This amounts to 0.6-1.4% of total government expenditure for 2020, which is a relatively small proportion of the country’s total government expenditure. For context, the health sector was allocated 4.8% of total government expenditure in 2020. That said, the estimated costs range between 12 and 29.5% of the Ministry of Health’s total expenditure for 2021.
Furthermore, given difficulties in securing all necessary vaccines from a single producer (e.g. AstraZeneca) due to supply shortages, Sri Lanka has already moved towards purchasing Sputnik V and Pfizer vaccines, which are more expensive than AstraZeneca, and therefore will increase costs. The cost increase will be significant given that other vaccines are two to six times more expensive than a dose of Astra-Zeneca (Table 2).
Given these realities, Sri Lanka will need to cover these costs through one or a combination of: (a) reallocating existing budgetary commitments; (b) receiving more bilateral and multilateral vaccine donations or financial assistance; or (c) self-financing through targetted tax policies and future borrowings.
Reallocating Budgetary Commitments
Notably, the government did not budget for a vaccination strategy in its National Budget for 2021. As such, any spending would have to be allocated through an emergency budgetary allocation. The government could potentially reallocate funding from other sectors or even reallocate from within the health sector. These reallocations, for example, could occur through built-in fiscal space for public investments in the budget, postponements or revisions to non-essential government spending initiatives such as non-essential small-scale infrastructure projects.
However, the extent to which such revisions can be incorporated is greatly limited by the economic conditions under which this vaccination initiative is taking place. Some of these small-scale infrastructure projects, for instance, are geared towards stimulating the economy.
Sri Lanka’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery is dependent on adequate government spending to stimulate growth, and there has already been a significant amount of spending rationalisation that has taken place. Furthermore, the government will be required to ensure that the broader public health sector is not compromised in any form simply to fund the COVID-19 vaccination initiative as that may have further severe long-term repercussions.
Given the current economic climate, the government is unlikely to increase direct taxes in the immediate future. Increasing indirect taxes such as import tariffs are also likely to be counter-productive since imports are restricted. Rather, a tax rationalisation on luxury goods and a sin-tax rationalisation on alcohol and cigarettes could generate a significant amount of revenue that can be directed towards the vaccination drive.
For instance, a recent study by IPS estimated that government revenue could be increased by LKR 17 billion by 2021, and LKR 37 billion by 2023, if taxes on cigarettes are streamlined and raised in line with inflation. This additional revenue can finance the vaccination strategy such that it reaches the midpoint of the study’s cost estimation range of LKR 20-67 billion.
A targetted tax intervention achieves the dual aim of raising the required funds to vaccinate the public while simultaneously ensuring that the government’s broader macroeconomic stimulus initiatives can continue unimpeded. If the government is unwilling to finance the entire cost through a targetted tax intervention, even a partial self-financing measure would reduce the necessity for the government to depend on further loans to cover the cost.
A basic economic impact analysis by IPS found that the vaccination rollout would generate an additional 30.6 billion in national output, and an extra value addition of LKR 26 billion. Besides, the country’s economy will benefit additionally due to the indirect impacts associated with the public health benefits of a vaccinated populace.
Considering these factors, the government is best off pursuing a medium-term self-financing option through targetted tax interventions and if required, through external financing. The challenge for Sri Lanka is to secure adequate funding without compromising on its investments in broader public health and social welfare initiatives as weaknesses on those fronts can undermine the success of vaccinating the public from COVID-19.
From a budgetary perspective, the cost of vaccinating the public fast will also be cheaper than the cost of continuous PCR testing, managing quarantine centres and cluster associated lockdowns over a prolonged period. In addition to securing funding, receiving an adequate supply of vaccine doses for the country to reach its vaccination coverage targets remains uncertain as we progress further into 2021.
To learn more, read IPS’ Policy Discussion Brief (PDB) ‘Fiscal Implications of Vaccinating Sri Lanka Against COVID-19’.
SL youth eligible for employment in Korea, to get the opportunity shortly
The Korean Ambassador to Sri Lanka Woonjin Jeong assured the Foreign Minister that the facilities required for the Sri Lankan youth who are eligible for employment in Korea to travel to Korea will be provided shortly. He was speaking at a discussion on the delays faced by young people who are eligible for jobs in Korea, chaired by the Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena at the Foreign Ministry on 16 June, 2021. State Minister of Foreign Employment Promotion and Market Diversification Priyankara Jayaratne, Secretary to the State Minister of Foreign Employment Promotion and Market Diversification Suntharam Arumainayaham, Chairman Kamal Ratwatte, Director Nimal Thibbatumunuwa and Deputy General Manager Mangala Randeniya of the Foreign Employment Bureau were also participated in the discussion.
The Foreign Minister pointed out that those who have qualified for jobs in Korea have been expecting to leave for jobs in Korea for a long time; however it has been avoided day by day due to the COVID pandemic. The Minister also pointed out that they are under severe mental stress due to this.
The Korean Ambassador to Sri Lanka explained the position of the Korean Government and stated that it has been planned to provide employment opportunities in Korea to all those who are eligible for employment in Korea. He said there is a delay in providing those opportunities due to the COVID pandemic; however assured that he is focussed on sending them to Korea at the earliest available opportunity.
Sterilizer device launched in Sri Lanka
At a time when the Covid-19 epidemic is spreading around the world, you will no doubt be happy to hear that those invisible germs that collect in such a closed environment can now be destroyed by a small device called STERIONIZER introduced to Sri Lanka by ABC Trade & Investments.
This small device has made life easy for many as you can clean your home or any other place (specially closed environment) by plug-in the STERIONIZER.
STERIONIZER system keeps air ducts, air heat exchangers and machinery clean and supplies sanitized air in enclosed areas and each ionizing device is completely maintenance free and connected to a data-bus for supervision and monitoring.
STERIONIZER is priced at Rs. 35,000. Phone 070 3 525 525 or 070 1 853 529 for more information.
Indian assistance to implement solar power project
It is expected to provide financial benefit to low-income households
Measures have been taken to increase the contribution by renewable energy sources to the national power grid by enhancing solar power generation as per the National Policy Framework.A key plan of the Government is to generate solar power by obtaining the contribution of state-owned buildings, places of worship and houses of the low-income families.
It is expected to provide financial benefit to low-income households and to curtail the expenses incurred by the state institutions for electricity, from the project. Steps will also be taken to provide facilities to store solar energy in batteries for the low-income families that are unable to access the national power grid.
The project also includes generating power by installing floating solar panels as a solution to land scarcity. Under the first phase of this, plans have been initiated to generate electricity required for the Parliament centering the Diyawanna Lake as a model project.The Government of India, one of the main stakeholders of Sri Lanka for this project, has entered into a bilateral loan agreement by agreeing to grant a Line of Credit amounting to US$ 100 million through the Export Import Bank of India.The agreement for the Line of Credit signed by the Sri Lankan Government and the Export Import Bank of India was exchanged between Finance Secretary S. R. Attygalle and Indian High Commissioner Gopal Baglay in the presence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and State Minister Duminda Dissanayake at the Presidential Secretariat recently.
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