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Vaccines: Some queries



Cassandra (“Cheers for Covid-19 vaccine; local answer to this and a very busy Minister”, 11 December) believes sensible, cautious thinkers cannot really trust “the Russians or the Chinese’. Instead, she “places her implicit trust and pins her hopes” on the so-called “Oxford vaccine”, which she claims to be “now in its last stage of being tested to obtain more than 95 % potency, sans any risks.”

She goes on to praise the British government for purchasing the Pfizer/BioNTech/Fosun vaccine.

On 8 December, the full trial results for the “Oxford vaccine” – more correctly the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine – saw publication. According to the figures, the vaccine was effective in 70% of cases, not 95%. Depending on dosage, efficacy of 62%-90% could be expected.

The discovery of the higher level of effectiveness took place by mistake: a batch of patients received the wrong dose. This raises the possibility of error in administering the vaccine in the field. The problem is that the Oxford vaccine has severe side effects – pain at the injection site, headache, fever, chills, muscle ache, and malaise, in more than 60% of participants.

Also on 9 December, Britain’s Daily Telegraph (not the most radical of newspapers) reported that “UK regulators have issued a warning that people who have a history of ‘significant’ allergic reactions should not currently receive the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, after two NHS staff members who had the jab suffered allergic reactions.”

Quite apart from the possibility of life-threatening allergic reactions, the Pfizer/BioNTech/Fosun vaccines have been reported as having side effects including pain at the injection site, headache, fever, chills, muscle and joint ache, and fatigue.

Pfizer has suffered in the past, from the blowback from pleading guilty in 2009 to a charge of marketing illegally the arthritis drug Bextra, for uses unapproved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which it agreed to settle by paying US$ 2.3 billion.

Cassandra doesn’t appear to be aware that Fosun, the Chinese partner of Pfizer and BioNTech in developing this vaccine, owns shares in BioNTech, and is itself owned by the same (Chinese) company which owns Sinopharm, the partner in developing a vaccine with the Beijing Institute of Biological Products and the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products.

Meanwhile, the UAE Ministry of Health reported on 9 December that the Beijing-Wuhan-Sinopharm Covid vaccine had proved 86% efficacious in tests carried out in that country. Furthermore, the vaccine had no serious reported side effects, only pain at the injection site and fever, both mild and self-limiting, in tests carried out in China, the UAE and Bahrain. The UAE has granted full authorisation for use of the vaccine.

These are not the only vaccines being developed – a wide variety of countries, including our neighbour, India, have programmes going. Even little Cuba (an unacknowledged biotech mini-superpower) has developed four vaccines, the first of which is projected for approval, after phase 3 trials, next February.

However, of all the vaccines which have entered the lists so far, the Beijing-Wuhan-Sinopharm Covid vaccine appears to have the best combination of efficacy and safety.

One can only applaud Cassandra’s caution regarding the Russian and Chinese vaccines. Vaccines need to be tested to the fullest, as inability to shield the person vaccinated, as well as the side effects, could cause death. However, when she does not express the same circumspection regarding British and American vaccines, even though their drawbacks have been published, one begins seriously to doubt her judgement.



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Regulate sports in popular schools ahead of big matches



The Big Matches between popular schools in Colombo and main outstation cities are round the corner. In the past school sports was in the hands of former sportsmen and sportswomen who loved the game as well as their school. They devoted their time and money to coach the budding youth without any monetary gain for themselves.

But, see what has happened today. Sports coaches selected by the schools demand millions of rupees to coach the students. And this is readily agreed and paid by the school authorities. In the good old days the members of School teams were provided free meals during match days and also Sports equipment. But it is not so now. The school earn millions of rupees from big matches played for a duration of two, or three days in some cases, and this money could be utilised to buy the required cricket gear such as bats, pads gloves, boots, etc,. I understand a pair of cricket boots is in the region of Rs.18,000 to 25,000. Can a poor village lad who is enrolled to an affluent schools in Colombo, based on his performance in Education and Cricket afford this? These lads should be given all the support to continue in their respective sports rather than drop out due to financial constraints

Coaches in some schools are in the payroll of big-time businessmen whose children are, in the so called pools. Parents of children engaged in a particular sport should not be permitted to come in as sponsors as this would be rather unethical.

The Big Matches between popular boys schools are around the corner and I suggest that the Sports Ministry ensures performance based selections rather than on other criteria.




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‘Post turtle’ revisited




I have written about this amusingly thought-provoking creature, the ‘post turtle’ to ‘The Island’ around three years ago (appeared in the opinion column of The Island newspaper on the 19th of June 2018, titled ‘The post turtle era’). The story, which I am sure most of you have heard/read already, is obviously not a creation of mine and I happened to come across it somewhere, sometime ago. 

And for the benefit of those, who haven’t heard the story, it goes like this:

“While surturing a cut on the hand of an old Texas rancher, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man. Eventually, the topic got around to politics and then they discussed some new guy, who was far too big for his shoes, as a politician.

The old rancher said, ‘Well, ya know he is a post turtle’. Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a ‘post turtle was’.

The old rancher said, ‘When you are driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, well, that’s your ‘post turtle’.

The rancher saw a puzzled look on the doctor’s face, so he went on to explain. ‘You know, he didn’t get up there by himself, he doesn’t belong up there, he doesn’t know what to do while he is up there, and you just wonder what kind of a dumb ass put him up there in the first place’.”

Now I was having this nice, little siesta, the other day and suddenly there appeared ‘the turtle’ in front of me, sitting on a fence post, seemingly doing a precarious balancing act as the post itself was too high for it to give it a try to jump down to the ground. Not that it probably wanted to do it anyway for it looked quite contended and happy sitting there doing absolutely nothing. And no doubt some loyal and dumb all rolled into one, must have put him up there and been feeding it well too, for it looked quite contended and fat showing a thick head that kept turning to the left and then to the right, while its tongue kept on lolling out as if it was saying something, which must have been absolute gibberish and rubbish anyway.

What a fitting and symbolic representation, 

I mean this ‘post turtle’, of the lot, or the majority of it sitting across ‘the oya’, I mused on after I woke up from my snooze.

Many of them get there thanks to the gullible voter, who while ticking the boxes, thinks: he/she will surely deliver the goods this time as promised! 

And those two-legged post turtles inside the edifice, bordering the Diyawanna, like the one in the story, keep uttering sheer rubbish and spitting out incomprehensible mumbo jumbo, all in return with thanks to those, who tick the boxes in their favour.

Their statements such as ‘what is oxygen for, to eat?’, is just one among many such stupendously stupid utterances of theirs and I don’t want to tire you with the rest, for they are well known and far too many.

Now I have only one question for you before I end this:

When are we going stop being ‘those dumb asses’, once and for all?

Laksiri  Warnakula  

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Abuse of use of title Professor



I read with much interest the letter by Mr. Nissanka Warakaulle, regarding the above matter, in the issue of the Sunday Island of 18th April 2021. I agree fully with the contents of his letter. He should be very familiar with the regulations as he is a former Registrar of the University of Colombo. I wish to highlight another instance where it is abused. In the 1970s, the title of Associate Professor was created. Until then there were only three categories of Professors. Firstly the holder of the Chair, secondly a co-Professor and thirdly, an Emeritus Professor. There were also, Lecturers, Senior Lecturers and Readers. The title of Reader was replaced with the title Associate Professor, which is meant to be a designation, to be used after the name. However, this category of academics started using it as a pre-fix, dropping the word Associate!

Profesor Sanath P. Lamabadusuriya MBE
Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics,
University of Colombo

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