At least three European nations have responded positively to former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s interventions to secure Astra-Zeneca vaccines for Sri Lanka as the island grapples with a third, deadly wave of the coronavirus and severe shortage of doses to protect citizens from the often-fatal disease.
Jayasuriya, who now leads the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) , made urgent intercessions with the embassies of Switzerland, Germany and France, appealing to envoys from those states to provide excess doses to Sri Lanka as soon as possible. Jayasuriya also met with the UN Resident Coordinator Hana Singer recently, to secure another stock of COVAX distributed through the World Health Organization.
All three European Nations have responded affirmatively to the Speaker’s request, the NMSJ said.
The Speaker’s intercessions for vaccine donations come amidst reports that the Government has decided to purchase 600,000 doses of AstraZeneca “at any price” in order to provide second doses to citizens who already received the first jab. Colombo Telegraph learns that the contract to purchase AstraZeneca in the open market will be awarded to a private company owned by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s de facto chief of staff Dilith Jayaweera. Jayaweera’s firm was linked to a monopoly on antigen test kits purchased outside of health guidelines when Sri Lanka was struck by the second wave of the coronavirus in October 2020.
Colombo Telegraph learns that Jayaweera’s company George Steuart Health is negotiating to purchase AstraZeneca doses at US $ 25 each. The Government is considering purchase of these doses at US $ 50 each, a 100% markup for life-saving vaccines.
Tens of millions of Astra-Zeneca doses are going unused in the US and parts of Europe, where states have suspended use because of increased risk of blood clots in a statistically minute number of people who received the dose. These states have opted to use stocks of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines instead. Sri Lanka inoculated some 600,000 people with AZ vaccines about three months ago, but does not have sufficient doses to provide the vital second jabs.
On Monday, a near stampede took place outside the Lady Ridgeway Hospital in Maradana, where thousands had gathered to get the second AstraZeneca jabs, but doses were extremely limited. Health experts are warning that the rush at vaccine centres could create mini clusters of Covid-19 infections around the Western Province. (By Chinthika de Silva)