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WHO extends time for booster shot, raises hope for AZ jab recipients

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Prof. CJ explains how combination of three vaccines was used to address problem 

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Those who have missed Oxford AstraZeneca (Covishield) second jab so far are unlikely to get theirs before the originally stipulated period to ensure the best effect of the vaccine.

Various government spokespersons, including Senior Presidential Advisor Lalith Weeratunga  are on record as having said that the second jab should be administered between 12 to 16 weeks to maximise protection against new variants of coronavirus.

However, State Minister of Pharmaceutical Production, Supply and Regulation Prof Channa Jayasumana yesterday (24) said subsequently the WHO had determined that the second jab could be given in 24 weeks (six months).

Prof. Jayasumana said that though the original deadline couldn’t be met due to the disruption to the supply line, the time and space provided by the latest WHO technical paper would give the government an opportunity to complete the inoculation of those who earlier received Covishield first jab.

Prof. Jayasumana said so in response to The Island queries.

Asked how the government intended to ensure the second jab for approximately 570,000 before the expiring of the new deadline, Prof Jayasumana said that in addition to 264,000 covishield promised through the Covax programme in the second week of July, Sri Lanka would take delivery of 26,000 Pfizer vaccines doses on July 5, 12 and 19 and the remaining requirement would be met through US donation of Covid-19 vaccines, probably Moderna. “If everything goes as expected, the issue of Covishield second jab can be settled by end of July,” Prof Jayasumana said.

According to the State Minister, the WHO has said the second dose could be given after 20 weeks though previously it was 16 weeks. According to WHO technical study dated May 26, 2021. “The uncertainty of future supplies has prompted countries to review policy and programmatic implications, as providing the second dose of the vaccine within the WHO recommended 8-12-week schedule may not be feasible in the near future,” according to the WHO study.

The Island sought an explanation from Prof. Neelika Malavige, who is also the Head, Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine at the Sri Jayewardenepura University Medical Faculty, what would happen if the deadline couldn’t be met. Prof. Malavige said that a slight delay wouldn’t be an issue but in the absence of required data she couldn’t comment on much delayed inoculation and what its impact would be.

Referring to available foreign research data, Prof. Malavige said having the second dose was essential to guarantee the best effect of the vaccine, and in particular to maximise protection against new variants.

Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena didn’t answer his mobile phone and therefore the response of the senior most official responsible for Covid-19 counter-measures to the plight of nearly 600,000 persons awaiting the second jab couldn’t be obtained.

Prof. Malavige pointed out that against the backdrop of sharp increase in the cases of the Delta variant, in some parts of the world the administration of the second dose had been advanced. According to the Office of  Health Ministry’s Chief Epidemiologist as at 8pm, June 22, 2021, altogether 372,675 had received the booster shot whereas 925,242 got the first dose during January-April 2021. The report revealed that on June 20, 21 and 22, the covishield second dose had been given to  252, 132 and  385 persons.

Sri Lanka received altogether three stocks of Covishield consisting 1,264,000 from Serum Institute, Pune beginning January 28, 2021. Of them, India and Covax donated 500,000 and  264,000, respectively. Sri Lanka paid for the rest.

The Japanese Embassy on Wednesday (23) said that Sri Lanka’s request for stock of AstraZeneka vaccines was still under consideration. The Island raised the issue with The Japanese embassy in the wake of a statement issued by the President’s Media Division (PMD) on June 09 regarding positive Japanese government response to Sri Lanka’s request.

“President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s request to the Prime Minister of Japan, Yoshihide Suga for 600,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine has received  positive response,” PMD stated in a statement soon after the President met Japanese Ambassador in Colombo Sugiyama Akira on June 09.

Asked whether the Japanese Embassy could comment on the PMD statement, the Japanese Embassy has sent The Island the following  statement: When circumstances allow and at an appropriate time, Japan will allocate around 30 million doses of vaccines manufactured in Japan to other countries and regions, including through the COVAX Facility. We have received a request from the Government of Sri Lanka for assistance in relation to vaccines. The two governments are in discussion on the issue and the request is being considered at our HQ. We would like to refrain from making further comments on the diplomatic communications.”

However, according to media reports Japan had already donated 1.24 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Taiwan early this month.

Authoritative Foreign Ministry sources told The Island that the Sri Lanka reiterated call for urgent supply of AstraZeneca from the UK in the wake of recently concluded G7 summit where the issue of some influential countries hoarding vaccine stocks was revealed.

Both Prof. Jayasumana and Prof. Malavige explained the current status on the basis of relevant documents made available to The Island. Prof Jayasumana acknowledged that it would be the responsibility of the government to ensure the proper implementation of the inoculation drive though some shortcomings were obvious. He said the issue of malpractices in the overall programme couldn’t be  denied but every effort would be made to implement the programme.

 



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Hemas collect discarded carbon pens, toothbrushes from schools

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By ifham Nizam

Hemas Holdings PLC and the Environment Ministry yesterday came together to provide schools with containers to collect used plastic items such as ballpoint pens and toothbrushes. Hemas Holdings PLC, will supply the containers until April 2022.

The agreement was signed by Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera and Hemas Holdings PLC CEO Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson, Executive Director Shiromi Masakorala, Senior Manager Ishani Ranasinghe and Manager Mindika Tillekeratne were also present on the occasion.

Minister Amaraweera said it took 400-500 years for used ballpoint pens and tooth brushes to decompose. Amaraweera instructed officials not to spend any government money on the scheme.

The government school system alone discarded between 80-100 kilograms of used ballpoint pens a day. As with other public and private institutions, there was no accurate information on the ballpoint pens used and discarded by individuals, the Minister added. The Minister said that it had been estimated that at least one million toothbrushes were discarded daily.

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AZ vaccine delay baffles over 500,000 awaiting second shot 

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DGHS to be summoned by HRCSL  

 

By Shamindra Ferdinando 

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has decided to summon the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena for failure to address HRCSL’s concerns pertaining to the ongoing Covid-19 vaccination programme. 

Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, Chairman, HRCSL, on May 28, in writing, requested Dr. Gunawardena to submit a comprehensive report on the vaccination programme by, or before, June 15. 

A senior spokesperson for the HRCSL yesterday (27) told The Island that Dr. Gunawardena would be summoned as the request made in terms of Human Rights Act of Sri Lanka Act No 21 of 1996 was not adhered to. 

The HRCSL consists of Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara, Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan and H.K. Navaratne Weraduwa. 

DGHS is the senior officer in charge of Covid-19 inoculation drive. 

In HRCSL letter dated May 28 addressed to Dr. Gunawardena, one-time lawmaker Dr. Balasuriya said that clarification was sought after receiving representations as regarding the inoculation drive. 

Dr. Gunawardena didn’t answer his phone for us to clarify the issue at hand. 

Meanwhile, controversy surrounds the decision to suspend giving Pfizer as the second jab to those who had received Covishield (AstraZeneca). According to the health ministry, 2,171 Covishield recipients were given Pfizer on July 7 and further inoculation was suspended abruptly on July 8 claiming that sufficient stock of AstraZeneca would be available in the third week of July. The announcement was made by Deputy Director General Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath who declared the immediate suspension of Pfizer vaccines for recipients, who had got Covishield as their first dose. 

The Island yesterday sought an explanation from Dr. Herath as regards the inordinate delay in inoculation of those awaiting the second AstraZeneca jab. Dr. Herath said that administration of Pfizer was stopped on July 8 after the Health Ministry received an assurance from the WHO that 1.4 mn AztraZeneca stock would be available in the third week. Dr. Herath emphasized that if not for that assurance, the government wouldn’t have stopped using Pfizer. “Now, we are hopefully awaiting the delivery of the promised stock under Covax facility.” 

Dr. Herath said that the Health Ministry was in touch with the WHO in that regard. The Health Ministry spokesperson was responding to The Island query whether the issue at hand was taken up with the Japanese embassy.

The Japanese embassy in Colombo on July 13 announced that Japan would provide approximately 1.45 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine manufactured in Japan to Sri Lanka through the COVAX facility to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka. The embassy said that the vaccines were expected to be delivered during the coming weeks.  

Dr. Herath acknowledged that the sudden stopping of the well planned programme to vaccinate those who had received Covishield with Pfizer as the second dose somewhat derailed the operation. 

Responding to another query, Dr. Herath said that so far Sri Lanka had received 264,000 doses under the Covax project though the initial estimates indicated 4.5 mn doses in a quarter once the operation got underway.  

Dr. Herath emphasized that on the part of the health ministry and the government there was absolutely no effort to deceive those who received Covishield as first doze. Over 500,000 of those who had got Covishield first jab remained to be inoculated with the second AstraZeneca jab, Dr. Herath said, asserting that Sri Lanka was blessed with a functioning system to carry out the challenging task. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get the required supply of doses of Covishield as pledged by the WHO Dr. Herath said, assuring they would do whatever possible to inoculate those who had been deprived of Covishield second dose. 

Dr. Herath explained that disruption of the Covishield supply chain caused a major crisis here. The health ministry spokesman asserted that the unexplained long delay caused uncertainty and in a way undermined public confidence in the health sector.

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North and East to benefit from 1.6 mn Sinopharm doses donated by China

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with Chinese Ambassador in Colombo Qi Zhenhong (pic courtesy PMD)

China has donated another consignment of 1.6 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine to Sri Lanka to fight the pandemic. Two SriLankan flights, UL869 and UL865, carrying the vaccine arrived at the Katunayake Bandaranaike International Airport at 5.30 a.m., yesterday (27).

Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong officially handed over the vaccines to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, yesterday (27).

In addition to these vaccines, a stock of syringes has also been donated. The vaccines were handed over to the Ministry of Health to be given to people over the age of 30 years in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. 72% of the vaccines used in the vaccination process in Sri Lanka is Sinopharm.

President Rajapaksa said that he highly appreciated the support provided by the Chinese Government for the control of COVID – 19 by donating 600,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines on March 31, 500,000 on May 26 and 1.6 million doses yesterday.

The President pointed out that by the end of August, all those over the age of 30 would be vaccinated and the tourism industry would be able to commence from September. “Therefore, the Chinese people are invited to visit Sri Lanka again”, the President said.

Ministers Pavithra Wanniarachchi and Douglas Devananda, Secretary to the President P.B. Jayasundera, Senior Advisor to President Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage, and the Political Officer of the Chinese Embassy Luo Chong was also present on the occasion.

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