In a statement on “maldistribution of Covid 19 vaccine,” the Vaccine and Infectious Diseases Forum of Sri Lanka, last week warned that if the elderly are not vaccinated, the entire purpose of the COVID vaccination program would have been in vain.
Dr. H. T. Wickramasinghe, President of the Forum said in this connection that “Saving lives is of paramount importance” and that the Health Ministry decision not to give the vaccine to people between the ages of 30-59-years was “meaningless.”
The Forum said in a statement that it appreciated the decision made by the Government to buy nine million doses of Covisheild vaccine from Serum Institute of India to be given to Sri Lankan citizens.
“We noted that 500,000 doses gifted to us by India have been given to healthcare workers and social workers involved in the care of the COVID patients and contacts. We also have observed that the remaining vaccines have been distributed to many MOH areas to be given to adults between 30 years to 59 years of age.
“Our opinion, and the opinion of WHO is entirely different. According to the WHO protocol, the first priority is given to the healthcare workers and the next priority is given to people over 65 years and people with co-morbid features. Countries such as Israel has vaccinated elderly over 65 years and people with co-morbid features first, before giving the vaccine to healthcare workers.
“The reason was to bring down the mortality. In fact, Israel has seen the results within three weeks with a significant reduction of deaths. New Zealand has decided to follow Israel by giving the vaccine first to the elderly. before giving to healthcare workers.”
Stressing that the primary purpose of the vaccination is to avert deaths, the Forum said its efficacy ranges from 70-84%, signifying a possibility of getting COVID 19 infection despite vaccination. But with AstraZeneca vaccine (Covishield), it is observed that the mortality reduction is almost 100%.
“That is the primary aim of this vaccine programme. However, the Ministry decision to give the remaining vaccines to public between 30-59 years is meaningless. It does not avert deaths among elderly. The basis of this decision by the Ministry of Health is not clear. The number of doses left would be only two to three hundred thousand. With such a limited number of vaccine doses, how could a population of Sri Lankans aged between 30 -59 years be protected?
“In fact, this limited number of doses, should have been given to people over 65 years of age. That would have averted a significant number of deaths due to COVID 19.”
The statement said there is suspicion growing among public, which is unavoidable and excusable. The decision to give the vaccine for 30-59 years old, has created a wrong impression among public that the vaccine should not be given to elderly over 60 years, as it is unsafe. We have heard that it is already happening and people may become reluctant to give the vaccine to elderly.
“When the new consignment of vaccines is available for elderly people, it may become difficult to convince the public that the vaccine is safe for the elderly. They might ask, ‘Then why didn’t you give the vaccine to elderly last time.’ We hope that the Ministry would come out with a convincing answer.
“Saving lives is of paramount importance. Therefore, if elderly are not vaccinated, the entire purpose of the COVID vaccination program would have been in vain.”