UN assures support to Sri Lanka for procurement, distribution & administering of COVID-19 vaccine

With several countries having started COVID-19 vaccination, the United Nations has assured Sri Lanka its support for procuring, distributing and administering of the vaccine.

This pledge was made today during a meeting between Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and a U.N. delegation comprising of U.N. Resident Coordinator Hanaa Singer, WHO Representative Dr. Razia Pendse and UNICEF Representative Tim Sutton.

“We are fully committed to support Sri Lanka in these challenging times,” Singer said.

The U.N. delegation and Sri Lankan officials agreed that vaccination at such a mass scale will require a whole-of-government approach to ensure Sri Lanka’s preparedness for the delivery and administering of the vaccine once it arrives.

“In many countries, we are seeing a dangerous second wave of COVID-19,” Prime Minister Rajapaksa said. “It seems that vaccines will be the only measure that can bring an end to this pandemic.”

In April this year, a global collaboration called “Access to COVID-19 Tools ACT-Accelerator” was established “to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.” Under this program, the “COVAX Facility” will offer vaccine doses for at least 20% of an eligible countries’ population, which will initially consist of high-risk groups.

Sutton stressed the importance of preparedness and creating awareness among the public. He also told the Prime Minister that while UNICEF is already assisting with procurement during the initial phase, it can also assist the Government with vaccine procurement beyond the initial 20%.

Dr. Pendse briefed the meeting on the global vaccine landscape and stressed that even with the vaccine, people will still need to take precautions.

“It’s still a new vaccine,” Dr. Pendse said. “It protects people from dying, but we don’t know how much it will reduce the transmission.”

One of the key messages that emerged from the meeting from all officials is that people cannot become complacent even after receiving the vaccine. While studies are ongoing, doctors say it’s still not certain how long the vaccine’s protection will last. Furthermore, according to doctors, it’s also uncertain whether the vaccine completely removes the virus or just reduces the viral load. If it’s the latter, a vaccinated person is still able to infect others.

Even with vaccination, the public is still strongly encouraged to continue wearing a mask, washing hands and maintaining adequate physical distance.