August 3, 2021

Fearing a “Delta wave”, Sri Lanka struggles to catch up with its vaccination delay

Sri Lanka must act quickly. While the first cases of Covid-19 attributable to the highly contagious Delta variant were detected in early June, the country has embarked on a race against time to quickly obtain a sufficient number of vaccines and thus make up for the delay caused by stopping exports from India.

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“I have personally spoken to heads of state from countries like China and India. I also made requests in writing ”Gotabaya Rajapaksa said on June 25 in a reassuring speech to the nation. The Sri Lankan president hopes to be able to immunize 13 million of the country’s 21.9 million people by the end of September, more than half of the population.

Currently, 13.5% of Sri Lankans have received a dose but only 5.7% of them are fully immune. “To achieve the government’s goal, we would need to be able to immunize 100,000 people every day, which is doable. But everything will depend on the availability of vaccines ”, underlines Chandima Jeewandara, director of the allergy, immunity and cell biology unit at Sri Jayewardenepura University.

Indian exports halted

Thanks to a donation from India, the Sri Lankan vaccination campaign was able to begin on January 29, before derailing a few months later … lack of doses. As part of its vaccine diplomacy operation called « Vaccine Maitri » (“Friendship vaccines” in Hindi), the South Asian giant had offered Sri Lanka 500,000 doses of Covishield, the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. Neighbors of India, such as Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh, were the first to benefit from these “friendship vaccines”. One way for New Delhi to counter the influence of China, which is developing numerous infrastructure projects in the region.

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Initially, Sri Lanka had placed all its hopes on the AstraZeneca vaccine. Authorities had obtained an additional 500,000 doses of Covishield in February, under a trade agreement, and another 264,000 the following month, thanks to the international Covax mechanism. But after, nothing more: in the grip of a terrible second wave of Covid-19, India stopped its exports of vaccines from April, endangering the Sri Lankan but also Bangladeshi and Nepalese immunization campaigns . Bangladesh, which had entered into a trade deal with the Serum Institute of India to purchase 30 million doses of Covishield, only received 7 million. As for Nepal, it received only half of the 2 million doses ordered.

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