EDITORIAL in Sunday Island, 4 July 2021, entitled ” A Success Story”
We are happy to publish today a reader’s letter unreservedly complimenting the ongoing covid vaccination process at Colombo’s Sugathadasa Stadium last week where people over 70-years old received their second AstraZenecca jab which they had been long waiting for. There have also been similar anecdotal reports from elsewhere in the Colombo Municipal area. Readers are very well aware of earlier vaccination trauma in many parts of the country having been “treated,” if we may use that expression, to television pictures of long snaking queues, rows over preferences accorded to a favoured few, ugly displays of political muscle including that of a suburban mayor intimidating a medical officer of health (MOH) doing her best to enforce the rules. Sadly, policemen standing by did little to control the politician. The resultant bad publicity triggered a belated arrest and the matter is now before court.
What was demonstrated at the Sugathadasa Stadium (and elsewhere in the CMC area) was the intelligent use of technology to ensure the best possible results. First, those eligible for their second jab received text messages on their mobile phones setting a date and time for their vaccinations. Details were even posted outside the stadium where public health inspectors, policemen and military personnel – mostly women soldiers – were on duty. The intention, obviously, was to eliminate long queues and the rastiadu inevitably associated with projects such as these. We all know that today the majority of adults in the country, including the non-affluent, own mobile phones. Thus it was possible to build an invaluable data bank of the mobile phone numbers of those receiving their first dose of the vaccine. This was used to maximum effect to give them appointments for the second dose.
There were, of course, unavoidable problems. People without mobile phones of their own gave numbers of others close to them. Where the elderly were concerned, these were often phone numbers of their children. The messages were obviously passed on when the texts arrived but many of those to be vaccinated did not carry a phone to display the message to gain easy entry to the vaccination center. But policemen on duty at the entrance to the centre, courteously listened to explanations offered and did not throw insurmountable roadblocks, using their discretion to be as helpful as possible. So many elderly people, armed with their national identity and vaccination cards, were allowed to enter despite their inability to show an appointment text on a mobile phone.
This writer can say from personal experience, like the writer of the letter published in this issue who was Chairman of the Ceylinco Insurance Company and a former head of the Inland Revenue Department who narrated what he and his wife experienced, that the kindness and humanity displayed at the Sugathadasa Stadium vaccination center was near unparalleled. There were wheelchairs offered to people who found it difficult to walk. A covered spectator stand beside the running track with sitting accommodation was made available to those awaiting their turn for the jab; and, believe it or not, they were served coriander (kottamalli) water with a piece of jaggery to go with it. Policemen in gym kits handled the service on trays and retrieved the disposable plastic containers. People were sent in batches to the vaccination point to avoid overcrowding there, keeping the rest seated under the shelter. The way the whole business was handled was truly unbelievable.
Having said this, it may be useful for those handling these arrangements, to make some suggestions. First, it would have been useful to announce that those granted appointments by text message were entitled to entry preferences without waiting in long queues. There were announcements from a public address system mounted on a three-wheeler at the stadium entrance. But they were inaudible to those at the tail of a long queue who could her something being said but could not decipher what it was. Instead of being stationary at the stadium entrance, the vehicle could have been moved to different points along the queue and the announcements repeated. Having received his own appointment text message only in English, the writer does not know whether messages were sent in Sinhala and Tamil also. We are all aware that people who know English are at a distinct advantage in this country over those who don’t. Hopefully this did not apply in the present instance.
It would also have been useful if the media, both print and electronic, were utilized to give more detailed instructions to the public on how they can receive their jabs with the least possible inconvenience or delay. When word gets around that vaccines are being administered wherever, there is a tendency for those needing the jab to flock to such places, lengthening queues and upsetting carefully designed plans to ensure maximum efficiency of delivery. We observed some people obviously under 70-years old at the stadium vaccination center. We do not know whether they got their shots or not but there is no escaping the reality that they added to the numbers. But we do know that at one center, a lady who had already received her second jab elsewhere, but summoned by text message to a particular center, took a friend there to inquire whether she could instead obtain the allotted jab. This lady was under 70-years old and a doctor there politely explained that if she was over 70 it could have been easily done, but he had to abide by the rules. He assured that the next round would be for people between 60 and 70 and the person concerned would get her chance in the near future.
We say all this to point out that good results are possible in this country despite all the everyday negatives around us, and to congratulate those responsible for a superior performance. Hopefully this example can be replicated elsewhere in the country to improve te efficacy of the entire programme.
REPORTAGE and PIX from the processes in place in May