Dear Mr. President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Mr. Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and the Minister and State Ministers of Health,
We are writing to you as a follow up to our letter to the Director General Health. We raised in that letter certain critical issues in regard to the current Covid vaccination programme. We highlighted the need for clarity in policy planning and programming and the importance of ensuring equitable access to Covid vaccines. We asked that all frontline workers providing Covid health services should be given priority. We questioned the exclusion of some and the need for rational system for determining frontline workers and vulnerable categories. That should be given priority in the administration of the vaccine.
We trust that the specific questions we have asked will receive clear answers from the Director General. We hope that the Minister of Health and State Ministers will facilitate that process as soon as possible, and as a matter of urgency. This will inspire public confidence in the health system that the whole country witnessed, and was acknowledged even globally, when the government commenced its Covid response programme in 2020.
We now understand that some stocks of AstraZeneca vaccine are still available for distribution. We also understand from an official press release and the media that new stocks of AstraZeneca have arrived or are expected soon. We are now writing to urge and call upon you to please ensure that this vaccine is distributed in a completely transparent and planned manner to those citizens who received the first AstraZeneca vaccine.
All those who received the first AstraZeneca vaccine in the initial phase of the Ministry of Health vaccination programme (after February 2021), have a right to receive the second in the manner that is medically recommended. There is a lack of clarity in regard to the recommended period of time between the two doses of the vaccine. Already three months have passed since the first AstraZeneca vaccine was administered. A prolonged lapse of time between the vaccines can make the vaccine ineffective. This will impact on the success of the vaccination campaign in responding to the Covid pandemic. It is the duty of the Health Ministry to ensure that the second AstraZeneca vaccine is given to persons who received the first, as soon as the vaccines come to the country, without any further delays.
In doing so, we ask that within this group, priority is given to all front line workers directly involved in Covid health services, and to citizens over the age of 60 years, taking account of the date and the locations of the vaccination points. These are categories considered most vulnerable to the Covid disease globally, and according to the evidence base and statistics currently available in Sri Lanka. The Director General in media statements on the Ministry of Health guidelines, has also recognized senior citizens as a vulnerable category that must be given first priority in vaccine distribution and administration. This is being recognised (and should continue to be recognized) in relation to the current Sinopharm and Sputnik vaccination distribution.
Denying citizens their right to receive the second AstraZeneca vaccine in completion of the first part of their vaccination regime is a violation of the right to equality and non-discrimination in access to health care. We call upon you to ensure that necessary priority is given to all frontline workers and other identified vulnerable categories in the administration of the second AstraZeneca vaccine. Early information on the date and time for vaccinations should be provided as is the practice now followed in regard to the new vaccines, which have come into the country.
Successive governments have respected, fulfilled and protected the important right to equitable access to health care from the time of independence, for over 70 years. We call upon the Government to collectively fulfill this responsibility to the People, in administering what is left of the AstraZeneca vaccines and in distributing new stocks.
Prof. Savitri Goonesekere, Emeritus Professor of Law and Former Vice Chancellor, University of Colombo
Dr. G. Usvatte-aratchi, Retired from UN/DESA, New York
Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, former Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict
Prof. Arjuna Aluvihare, Emeritus Professor of Surgery and former Vice Chancellor, University of Peradeniya, former Chairman, University Grants Commission
Prof. Gananath Obeysekere, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Princeton University, USA
Bishop Duleep de Chickera, retired Anglican Bishop of Colombo.
Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, former Executive Director of the United States-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission
Mr. Chandra Jayaratne, former Chairman, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce
Prof. Deepika Udagama, Professor of Law, University of Peradeniya, former Chairperson, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
Prof. Camena Guneratne, Department of Legal Studies, Open University of Sri Lanka
Prof Gameela Samarasinghe, Department of Sociology, University of Colombo
Dr A. C. Visvalingam – Past President, Society of Structural Engineers, Sri Lanka
Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, former General Secretary of the National Christian Council, former Principal of the Theological College of Sri Lanka
Dr. Ranjini Obeyesekere, Retired Professor, Dept. of Anthropology, Princeton University, USA.
Mr. Priyantha Gamage, Attorney-at-Law, Commissioner, Legal Aid Commission of Sri Lanka
Mr. SCC Elankovan, Attorney-at-Law and social activist