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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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At least 17 killed after explosion in Peshawar mosque

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(picture from twitter)

BBC reported that at least 17 people have been killed in an explosion at a mosque in the Pakistani city of Peshawar.

The blast happened when the mosque was packed with worshippers and more than 90 people were injured.

A section of the building was destroyed, and officials say people are buried under the rubble. Several others are being taken to local hospitals.

The cause of the explosion is unclear.

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More heavy rain ahead for New Zealand’s largest city

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Auckland experienced an unprecedented amount of rainfall on Friday (picture BBC)

BBC reported that residents in flood-hit northern New Zealand are bracing for more heavy rains as officials issued severe weather alerts.

At least four people have died and a state of emergency was declared in Auckland, which on Friday experienced its worst downpour on record.

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Information Dept. media release: EC Chief asks public not to be misled

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by Priyan de Silva

Chairman of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka, Nimal Punchihewa, asked to comment on a special news release, purportedly issued by the Director General of the Department of Government Information, on Sunday (29), told  The Island  that preparations for the 09 March local government elections were going ahead, as planned, and that the media statement at issue was misleading.

The media statement says: “The gazette notice with signatures of the Chairman and other members of the Election Commission required for the commencement of the Local Government election process has not been sent to the Government Press for printing.”

Punchihewa requested the public not to be misled by any misinformation being spread in an attempt to create doubts in their minds.He also  reiterated that the EC would not be deterred by any acts of intimidation.

Three of the EC members have been threatened with death by an unidentified caller to resign from their posts. They are S. B. Divaratne, M. M. Mohamed and K. P. P. Pathirana. The Opposition has accused the government of trying to sabotage the LG polls.

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