Sanjeewa Jayaweera, whose preferred title is “How Did MPs jump the Vaccine Queue?” …. Note that highlighting is the work of the naughty Thuppahi Editor
It was so typical! None were too surprised when it was announced in the media that the 225 Members of Parliament (MP’s) were to be vaccinated against Covid19 ahead of many others whose exposure to the virus was significantly higher. A photograph of a government minister vaccinated at the Army Hospital was published in the media before this announcement. A few erstwhile cabinet colleagues justified this by saying the Minister had twice served quarantine time due to some of his close contacts being infected with Covid19. The presumption is that the Minister was unable to carry out his duties whilst being in quarantine?
I was somewhat surprised but delighted that the Host of Derana TV programme “360 degrees” decided to robustly question the youthful Deputy Minister of Health of Viyathgama fame. Several questions were posed to the Minister seeking justification as to why the MP’s had jumped the vaccine queue. The Deputy Minister looked like a “deer caught in the headlights.” For once, a Minister looked embarrassed and gave the viewers the impression that he, too, did not believe in what he was saying! It seems that not many MP’s have availed of the vaccine at the time of writing this article. Are we to believe that they have developed a conscience, or are they running scared of getting the jab?
It was only last week that a good friend of mine lamented that his wife, a doctor at a private hospital, had not been offered the vaccine yet. Ever since the pandemic commenced in March 2020, he has been worried that his wife might contract the virus while attending to her patients and inadvertently infect the family. He was anxious because his elderly parents, too, were living with him. I read a news report that the government has now decided to offer the vaccine to those working exclusively in private hospitals. I am somewhat surprised that they were not included in the initial group of frontline workers vaccinated. Those working in private hospitals and medical practice perform a commendable service and undoubtedly fill a massive vacuum in the country’s health service due to the poorly funded government hospitals.
I noticed from daily news updates that the number of vaccinations administered was relatively high in the first few days. After that, it gradually declined, and it was averaging about 1,500. The curve depicting the daily administration of people getting vaccinated took a sharp downturn. In most other countries it continues an upward trend. This was the case until the controversial decision to allow the MP’s to jump the queue was announced with the resultant negative publicity.
Now it seems various people from garbage collectors to fish vendors are being offered the vaccine. It begs the question of whether the government and the health ministry have a properly laid down criteria as to who should be vaccinated and in what order? In other countries, after the frontline health workers, the next on the priority list were people aged over 80 years and then came those over 70 years etc. Based on feedback received from friends living in both the UK and USA, the initial criteria is being adhered to.
Recently, the State Ministry of Primary Health Care, Epidemics and Covid Disease Control launched a website to enable those interested in getting the vaccine to get registered. Fortunately, I was able to register myself but within the next hour or so the website crashed. There is now a message saying the website is currently being updated and will be available shortly. I don’t think that the website was in operation for more than a few hours. A reflection of poor conceptualization and execution. Need we say more?.
We received 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in India as a gift from the Indian government. According to newspaper reports, the Chinese government is also to donate 300,000 doses of a Chinese vaccine. Since the initial announcement, there have been no further updates. It is also reported that a purchase order for 18 million doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine from the Indian manufacturer has been placed by the State Pharmaceutical Corporation (CPC). No dates have been announced as to when at least the first consignment would arrive in the country. According to news reports, even the Attorney Generals Department had got involved in vetting the purchase agreement, and certain changes have been recommended. Invariably, these issues lead to delays, and many countries are scrambling to get their quotas. In such a scenario, manufacturers are not too amenable to change clauses in standard agreements. We must hope that no further delays will be encountered.
In some countries like India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, there are concrete moves to allow the vaccine’s retail sale to those who wish to pay. In my view, this is a sensible move as those who can afford to pay and get the vaccine should be able to do so. I know that my perspective may be criticised by some saying that money should not be a criterion for getting the vaccine. We have had this same argument about the merits of private education. I and many thousands have seen our children benefit from private education. Even those who attend government schools pay for “tuition”, without which it seems none of our children will pass their examinations. So, the concept of paying for education is well entrenched.
I understand that several large organisations in the private sector are keen to import the vaccine at their cost through the local agents and offer them to their staff. This is a very sensible and laudable initiative given that both our manufacturing and the service industry need to be operated continuously. I am certain this is critical to the garment industry that exports and need to meet very tight deadlines. Given the proximity of the staff working in the manufacturing line, these workers should be vaccinated as soon as possible. These are export industries earning much needed foreign exchange and should not be overlooked. The government is short of funds and why the private sector has still not been allowed to import the vaccine at their cost for the staff is anybody’s guess.
Sri Lanka has so far approved only the AstraZeneca vaccine. It seems additional data is required with regards to a Chinese and a Russian vaccine. Pakistan has so far approved four vaccines. Unnecessary procrastination by the authorities will delay the recovery of the struggling economy and, notably, death due to the Covid19.
I have followed the global vaccination statistics with much interest. The state of Israel has been the best example. They have, to date, vaccinated over 75% of their population of 9 million. Their approach has been exemplary and is a result of great initiative, planning and determination to resurrect the economy.
They claimed that they signed up with Pfizer for the vaccine supply long before many other countries did. There has been some speculation that they may have paid a slightly higher price for the vaccines, but this has not caused much controversy. The people of Israel understand the benefit of early vaccinations. The government has gone all out to ensure that the project would work like clockwork. The much-maligned Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu recently said that he spoke to Pfizer’s CEO on 21 occasions to secure the vaccine! Just imagine! It just about sums up what single-minded determination can achieve, and the guy certainly in my books is a visionary.
I read a Reuters report describing how a Bar in Israel, designated as a vaccination site, has offered free non-alcoholic drinks to customers who agree to take the vaccine! The Bar owner justified his marketing strategy by saying that lockdowns and social distancing restrictions have impacted his business significantly and that he is keen to promote the vaccination roll-out to see an end to the pandemic to get back to business as usual. I can imagine the controversy that such an initiative would cause in our country!
The initial data coming out of both Israel and the United Kingdom, where the vaccination programme has been proceeding smoothly, is very encouraging. According to the first real-world data, a recent news report states, “Vaccines appear to cut Covid transmissions and infections by two-thirds.” This is based on limited studies conducted in both these counties.
I am sure many of us would agree that using 225 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to safeguard our hard-working MP’s will not make a difference in terms of the overall vaccine strategy of our country. However, the optics do not look correct. It is said that a vital feature of a legitimate justice system is not only must justice be done, but it must be seen to be done. I think we can extend the same logic to the free of charge vaccination programme of the government.