“The biggest challenge in terms of rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine to our adult population is ensuring that we secure the required supplies for vulnerable groups,” stated the Managing Director of Technomedics International Linus Jeganathan on LMDtv.
Expanding on this view, he stated: “This number varies from time to time, being in the order of 18-20 million doses. Given that we need to vaccinate 70 percent of the population, this might take as long as two years, depending on the availability.”
As such, Jeganathan believes that sourcing is the most significant challenge for the country and the immediate priority should be to place orders for more vaccines.
In his view, the country’s choice of acquiring the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines was wise due to its proximity to India, the pricing element and storage requirements.
Discussing Sri Lanka’s approach to rolling out the vaccines, he expressed concerns about the deviation from the original plan of inoculating front line healthcare workers, the armed forces and individuals over the age of 60.
“Had we followed the original systemic plan, we would have been able to avoid doubts and other issues with the roll out,” he opined.
According to Jeganathan, vaccinating Sri Lanka’s workforce should be prioritised given the economic impact of the pandemic last year: “We should focus on the 30 and above age group to ensure that our working population is protected to limit the economic impact.”
Commenting on the need to continue following health protocols as those who have been vaccinated can still contract and spread the virus, he noted that vaccines only mitigate risks and impacts on the body.
“We must continue to wear masks, and maintain physical distance and handwashing practices – especially among children and other vulnerable groups,” Jeganathan stressed. And he cautioned: “Failing to do so may lead to those who are vaccinated becoming carriers and affect those who aren’t.”
In Jeganathan’s opinion, if the country is able to obtain vaccines in a short period, the roll out will be “quite easy” through the Ministry of Health system: “We have a robust vaccination programme – we’ve managed to eradicate polio and other diseases. We’re well equipped but we must use our infrastructure.”
When it comes to the efficacy of the vaccinations, he alluded to the growing concern vis-à-vis the consequences of the new variants that have emerged – particularly the South African, UK and Brazilian strains.
However, if the vaccines prove to be effective on the UK variant, which has arisen in Sri Lanka, he believes that the combination of this and mitigation measures could see the country emerging out of the pandemic in a year or so.
Jeganathan believes that the vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson could be beneficial for developing countries as only one jab is needed and the storage requirements are similar to that of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
In addition to the doses that Sri Lanka is expected to receive from various vaccine producers and nations, a substantial quantity will have to be purchased. This could pose a major challenge for the country when placing orders as payment may be necessary at the time of doing so.
“This is a major struggle, and we are depending on various funding lines and donor agencies – such as UNICEF, the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and WHO,” Jeganathan noted, maintaining that Sri Lanka needs this support as a short-term measure.
Summing up his views on paying for the vaccine, he stated: “Most corporates are yearning for the vaccine because many employees in the private sector want it – be it the apparel industry or manufacturing organisations.”
“Therefore, the overall cost per person would be quite low; so given the challenge faced by the government, it would be wise to ensure that a certain amount is sponsored by the private sector or individuals who can afford it,” he declared.