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Lanka lucky to get substantial supplies of Sinopharm, but we are paying for following failed playbook of US, UK – Dr. Rannan-Eliya

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Given that Sri Lanka has access to substantial supplies of Sinopharm vaccine, Sinovac is not a good choice any longer, since Sinopharm is much better in terms of immune protection, Executive Director of the Institute for Health Policy (IHP), Dr. Ravi Rannan-Eliya says.

Dr. Eliya said that if Sri Lanka had actually stuck to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s official strategy of preventing and stopping outbreaks, then Sinovac might have had a role, since even a partially effective vaccine can help in reducing the cost of maintaining a COVID- free country. He added that “this essentially what China is doing right now”.

“China doesn’t need the best vaccines, just vaccines good enough to slow transmission enough to allow other control measures to beat the virus, without putting the whole country in lockdown. But we are not China. We have followed the failed playbook that the UK and the USA adopted. So we have widespread transmission in the community and literally thousands of deaths each month. So for us, buying and deploying Sinopharm, topped up with Moderna, Pfizer and Sputnik seems to be best strategy for now, with the exact mix depending on what is available quickly in quantity. Moreover, given that thousands are dying and will continue to die until the virus slows down by infecting enough people, speed and quantity are the biggest considerations, and no longer cost, since we have already made the decision to go for broke…and I mean that literally!,” he said.

Given below are excerpts of his statement: “I was asked the other day for my thoughts on the local approval and use of Sinovac, so just sharing my general take on this. Sinovac was given an emergency use license (EUL) by our NMRA on 16 July 2021, six weeks after WHO had given its EUL (1 Jun 2021). We have since not purchased it as far as I know and certainly not used it, so why?

“SHOULD SINOVAC BE APPROVED FOR EMERGENCY USE DURING THIS ONGOING COVID PANDEMIC?

“The answer to that is fairly simply – YES. This basically boils down to two considerations: (1) Does it work? (2) Is it safe enough for emergency use, given the limited evidence that any vaccine will have in an emergency scenario? This is the decision that WHO came to (and they are really slow when it comes to non-US/UK/EU vaccines), and the same decision that robust regulatory authorities in places like Hong Kong, Chile came to months before WHO. Given that and given the reality that we faced of tight global supplies of COVID vaccines, our local NMRA approval was in fact if anything rather slow. The second question is whether we should use or purchase it.

“SHOULD SINOVAC BE USED IN OUR SRI LANKAN COVID VACCINATION STRATEGY?

“The question of whether Sinovac should be used in our national COVID vaccination strategy is a completely separate one, and not one that NMRA should or could decide. This separate decision needs to be based on the overall public health strategy, plus COST and AVAILABILITY considerations. The bottom line here is that the answer depends on what our alternatives are, and how desperate we are to boost population immunity.

“There are three things to know about Sinovac. First, it is not as effective in stopping severe illness and also in stopping transmission as Sinopharm or Astra-Zeneca, and much less effective than the mRNA vaccines, like Pfizer and Moderna. Second, it is much more available to developing countries than Astra-Zeneca, Pfizer and Moderna, because Sinovac is being produced in the billions of doses and most Western countries aren’t buying it. Third, although Sinopharm is a better vaccine, Sinovac was available in bulk outside China much earlier, because Sinovac, a commercial firm, was much faster in getting approvals than the more lethargic, state-run Sinopharm.

“So Sinovac has been put to use in many countries, including in Europe and also some OECD countries, such as Chile and Mexico. GAVI has also signed agreements to purchase Sinovac for global distribution through the COVAX programme. For practical reasons. Sinovac and also Sinopharm are the only vaccines that are available in sufficient bulk to allow COVAX to deliver on its commitments to developing countries, so COVAX desperately needs both Sinovac and Sinopharm. So there is a rational case for purchasing Sinovac in bulk in many countries, and even Western-dominated entities like GAVI have come to this conclusion.

“However, for us in Sri Lanka, where we appear to now have substantial supplies of mostly Sinopharm vaccines, Sinovac is not a good choice any longer, since Sinopharm is much better in terms of immune protection. This means that with continuing widespread transmission (since contrary to President’s Official COVID Strategy, our real strategy has been for months to live and die! with the virus), Sinovac will require boosters earlier, and it will thus end up being more costly.”



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Keheliya turns down request for abolishing price control on medicine

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Industry leader has sought court intervention

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella yesterday (17) said that in spite of difficulties caused by the foreign currency crisis price control on imported medicines couldn’t be done away with.

Abolition of price control on drugs would heap an enormous burden on the vast majority of people, Minister Rambukwella said.

Lawmaker Rambukwella said so when The Island sought his response to the Sri Lanka Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry (SLCPI) requesting the government to do away with price control. Claiming that the grouping imported over 80 percent of medicines into the country, the SLCPI recently warned of possible collapse of the industry unless remedial measures were taken swiftly.

Minister Rambukwella said that recently he met an SLCPI delegation at their request to discuss issues at hand. “Of course, I understand the difficulties experienced by all sectors, including the pharmaceutical trade. However, price control as regards medicine cannot be done away with,” Minister Rambukwella said.

The SLCPI has pointed out to the Minister that at the moment medicines were the only commodity under price control in the local market. The Health Minister asserted that it wouldn’t be fair to compare the medicine with other commodities.

Minister Rambukwella said that regardless of constrains, the government was trying to ensure uninterrupted supply of medicine and it wouldn’t be fair to do at this juncture.

In a statement sent to the media SLCPI asserted: “There is no solution to this dilemma than removing the price control of medicines and implement a fair and equitable pricing mechanism which will link the price of medicines to the dollar, inflation and direct costs such as raw material, fuel and freight charges, which will then make importing and marketing of medicines viable. As difficult as it may sound, the authorities will have to choose between having medicines at a cost and not having medicines at all.”

The SLCPI has already sought the intervention of the courts to establish what the grouping called a transparent pricing mechanism outside government price control.

Recently, Minister Rambukwella, at a meeting also attended by State Minister Dr. Channa Jayasumana called for a report on the requirement of medicines over the next six months. The Health Ministry declared that there was no shortage of drugs whereas SLCPI claimed some drugs were in short supply and the situation could get worse.

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Central Expressway: Rs 3 mn raked in within 12 hours

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Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando said yesterday that about three million rupees had been earned by way of toll within the first 12 hours of the opening of the second phase of the Central Expressway.

Rs 2,805,100.00 had been paid by the expressway users during the first 12 hours from 12 noon to midnight Sunday (16) after its opening by the President and the Prime Minister on Saturday (15).

The Minister said that during the first 12 hours of the period of toll collection, a total of 13,583 vehicles had traversed the most  scenic road stretch in the country between Mirigama and Kurunegala. No traffic accidents had been reported during the 12 hour period.

Minister Fernando said that the newly opened road had been allowed to be used by the public free of charge for 12 hours from midnight Saturday (15) to Sunday (16) noon.

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President to inaugurate second session of Ninth Parliament today

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by Saman Indrajith

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is scheduled to commence the second session of the Ninth Parliament today at 10 am with his third Presidential policy statement (formerly Throne Speech).

He made his first ‘Throne Speech’ on Jan 3, 2020, opening the Fourth Session of the Eighth Parliament and the second on Aug 20, 2020 to open the First Session of the Ninth Parliament.

Secretary General of Parliament, Dhammika Dasanayake said that MPs have been requested to arrive at the parliamentary complex at 9.25 am the latest.

The MPs, if accompanied by their spouses will alight from their vehicles at the Staff Entrance of the parliamentary building, while all other MPs are requested to drive up to the Members’ Entrance.

To facilitate orderly arrival, the MPs are requested that the Car Label provided them with be pasted on the inside top left-hand corner of the windscreen of their vehicles. On arrival at Parliament, Members’ vehicles would be directed by the Police to the appropriate Car Park.

Thereafter the MPs are requested to enter the lobbies of Parliament and to remain there until the Quorum Bells are rung.

President Rajapaksa is scheduled to arrive at the Main Steps of the Parliament Building at 9.40 a.m. and he would be received by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena and the Secretary-General of Parliament.

The President will be escorted by them to the Parliament Building. Thereafter, the Speaker and the Secretary-General of Parliament will escort the President to his Chambers.

At 9.55 a.m. the Quorum Bells will be rung for five minutes and all Members will take their seats in the Chamber of Parliament.

The President’s procession will leave for the Chamber of Parliament and will enter the Chamber at 10.00 am. On entering the Chamber the President’s arrival will be announced whereupon all Members will stand in their places until the President reaches the Chair and requests the Members to be seated.

Thereafter, the Proclamation proroguing the Parliament and Summoning the Meeting of Parliament will be read by the Secretary General of Parliament. Then, the President will address Parliament.

After his policy statement the President will adjourn the House until 1.00 p.m. on Wednesday (19).

Thereafter, the President will leave the Chamber escorted by the Speaker and the Secretary-General of Parliament.

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