Vaccination: Success assured | Sunday Observer

Vaccination: Success assured

12 September, 2021

Two significant milestones were observed in the Covid vaccination campaign yesterday. Those jabbed with the second dose exceeded the 10 million mark and the uptake of the Covid vaccine among the 20-30 age group also exceeded 50 percent, from a total 20-30 population of 3.3 million.

This essentially means that nearly 90 percent of the population over 30 (11.4 million) has now received both doses of the vaccine. The first dose has been given to 13.2 million persons. This is a singular achievement, considering that the vaccination drive began just seven months ago with the administration of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine to members of the Security Forces and frontline health staff.

It should also be viewed in the context of many other developing countries not yet being able to inoculate even a single person. Collectively, only 1.9 percent of the collective population in low-income countries has received at least the first dose of any Covid vaccine. At the time of writing, only two other developing countries – Uruguay and Chile – had better vaccination rates than Sri Lanka, according to Our World in Data. It is thus important for Sri Lanka to keep up the momentum.

The only concern at the moment is that around 100,000 persons aged 60 and above have somehow slipped through the vaccine net. Although this is clearly no fault of the health authorities, they must do everything in their power to administer the vaccine to those who are still holding out. After all, it has been conclusively proved that around the world, the highest number of Covid deaths is from the over 60 age group, especially those unvaccinated among them and/or having Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

We can indeed save many more lives if the remainder of this group can be vaccinated as soon as possible. Apart from a certifiable medical reason, there is hardly any excuse not to get vaccinated as the Army’s Mobile Vaccination teams will come to the doorsteps of those over 60 who cannot go to a vaccination centre due to mobility, disability or other issues. Moreover, in many areas the Medical Officer of Health (MOH) will also arrange teams to come to the residence of any such person over 60 who needs the vaccine.

Our sister paper the Daily News recently carried a picture of a 106-year-old person in Karandeniya, believed to be the oldest resident of the Southern Province, getting the shot at his home from the area MOH. Regardless of who provides it, this is indeed a great service that should be embraced by all those over 60 who need it. The Government is also contemplating giving a third (booster) shot to this vulnerable age group to fortify their defences against Covid.

At the other end of the spectrum, the enthusiasm among the country’s youth for the vaccine is a good sign that Sri Lanka’s vaccination drive would become a total success. TV channels showed youth lining up keenly at centres islandwide to get the shot. Some of them have already been vaccinated under the essential workers’ category (garment workers, health workers, etc.).

This is in sharp contrast to the scenes in some developed countries where many youth duped by misinformation on Covid vaccines have refused to take it (and even refused to wear masks). The authorities should make all attempts to disseminate the truth regarding the vaccine via the mainstream media (TV and Radio), as social media is rife with misinformation.

There is another aspect that has gone under the radar – most women who get pregnant are in this age group. Vaccinating them will help protect their family members and babies.

In another promising development, Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella has disclosed that the vaccination program for schoolchildren would begin soon. This would essentially mean vaccination for those aged 12-19 (No country is still vaccinating children under 12 as clinical trials are still ongoing). Vaccinating schoolchildren will enable education authorities to re-open schools at least by the beginning of 2022, as teachers and non-academic staffers have already been vaccinated.

This will enable a safe environment for both children and teachers. After all, online learning is a poor substitute for in-person learning as school is much more than cramming books – character development, play, extra-curricular activities, teamwork etc. are all part of the school experience.

Sri Lanka has received over 27 million vaccine doses so far, which shows the level of commitment of the Government to the vaccination drive. Sri Lanka is using all the Covid vaccines approved around the world so far, apart from the Johnson and Johnson single-dose vaccine. Sri Lankan health authorities should keep an eye on the latest developments with regard to Covid vaccines as formulations that can more efficiently evade the new variants are due to enter the market soon. In another new development, India recently unveiled a DNA based Covid vaccine, as opposed to the mRNA ones developed by Pfizer and Moderna. This could be a game changer in the vaccine field.

But even if the entire population is vaccinated and herd immunity is achieved, it will still not be possible to go back to our old lifestyles at least within the next couple of years. We will have to continue under “New Normal” conditions and strictly adhere to the health guidelines such as wearing face masks, washing hands and keeping the distance. The lockdown has also been extended by another week to restrict unnecessary public movements. We should all cooperate with these measures regardless of our vaccination status to see us through this pandemic.