Arrival of the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX Facility in Sri Lanka marks another step to ensure equitable and fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally. 20 million vaccine doses have been delivered to 20 countries in the first week of delivery from COVAX. This is a truly multilateral global effort to ensure equitable access to vaccines in all countries, which is one of the most critical interventions for global health and economic recovery from the pandemic.
On March 7, Sri Lanka received the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX facility. This delivery of 264,000 doses is part of the first wave of arrivals that will continue in the coming weeks and months; culminating in 1,440,000 doses arriving through May. The additional doses to cover 20% of Sri Lanka’s population will arrive in the second half of 2021. All these doses are donor-funded and provided at no cost to Sri Lanka.
COVAX is a global vaccine initiative co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), funded by donations from governments, multilateral institutions and foundations; with UNICEF leading on procurement, logistics, and storage globally in what will be the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history. COVAX is working in partnership with the World Bank, ADB, member countries, civil society organizations, manufacturers, and others to fulfill its mission to help end the acute phase of the pandemic as quickly as possible by enabling global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
The first batch of COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX Facility to arrive in Sri Lanka is the Astra Zeneca/Oxford vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII). This is part of COVAX’s commitment to provide 8.4 million vaccine doses to cover 20% of Sri Lanka’s population.
The Minister of Health, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, emphasized the vital role COVAX Facility vaccines play in the Government’s commitment to vaccinate eligible Sri Lankans, starting with vulnerable groups like those over 60 years old and people residing in high case reporting areas.
“Sri Lanka is one of the first countries to initiate vaccine roll out. We thank our partners for their contributions to protect our population against COVID-19 and for their continuous collaboration in strengthening the country’s capacities and building a more resilient health system for better preparedness and response to future health emergencies,” the Minister noted.
It is in every country’s best interest to work together in solidarity to ensure that frontline health workers and older people in all countries start receiving the vaccine as soon as possible. COVAX is a key component of this call to action, which is at the heart of WHO’s vaccine equity campaign and declaration.
WHO Special Envoy on COVID-19, Dr. Palitha Abeykoon said, “This is a critical moment in our effort to fight COVID-19 in Sri Lanka. This is aligned with the WHO Director General’s call to the global community for ensuring the start of vaccination in 100 countries within the first 100 days of the year. Global solidarity would be crucial for its success. Now we must quickly and efficiently vaccinate according to our defined priorities because protecting the vulnerable will have the greatest public health impact in terms of reducing COVID-19 mortality”.
“The UNICEF-led supply operation to Sri Lanka, on behalf of the COVAX Facility, is part of one of the biggest vaccine procurement and supply operations in history. As the largest single vaccine buyer globally, UNICEF is geared to deliver 2 billion COVID-19 vaccines in 2021,” said the UNICEF Representative, Emma Brigham.
“These supplies mean so much for the future of the children and families in Sri Lanka, and UNICEF hopes that life can start returning to normal, including that all children will be able to return to school and learning,” she also said.
WHO Representative to Sri Lanka, Dr. Razia Pendse, noted that, “The vaccines are a major breakthrough and a critical addition to our tool kit to fight COVID-19. They are however, not the silver bullet. Vaccination combined with public health and social measures will help us end the pandemic. It is important that as vaccination is rolled out, we continue to stay the course with each one of us committing to practicing known preventive measures to reduce the spread of the virus; such as physical distancing, wearing a mask, washing our hands with soap, and avoiding crowded and enclosed spaces even when we have received the vaccine. Now is the time to be more vigilant and not let our guard down”.
Not only will vaccines help save lives and stabilize health systems, but they can help to drive a global economic recovery. With a diverse portfolio of vaccines suitable for a range of settings and populations, COVAX is on track to meet its goal of delivering at least 2 billion doses of vaccine to participating countries around the globe in 2021, including at least 1.3 billion donor-funded doses to the 92 AMC developing countries. This is a prime example of the world coming together through investments in research, manufacturing capacity, procurement, and investment in delivery to achieve results at an unprecedented speed.
Welcoming the arrival of 264,000 doses of Covishield vaccines made in India, the High Commissioner of India, Gopal Baglay said, “It is a matter of great happiness that the first consignment of vaccines to Sri Lanka under the COVAX Facility has arrived from India. Ramped up vaccine capacities in India, the global leader in vaccine production, benefit humanity the world over in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. India remains committed to strong cooperation with the international community to this end”.
Commenting on the delivery of this first batch from COVAX, the Ambassador of the European Union in Sri Lanka, Denis Chaibi said, “This is great news for the population of Sri Lanka. Ensuring access to safe and efficient vaccines for all, regardless of where you come from, is key to fight this global pandemic. COVAX is best placed to help us achieve this objective. COVID-19 knows no boundaries, and the world will only be safe when everyone is safe. Therefore, the European Union, jointly with its Member States and the European Investment Bank EIB under ‘Team Europe’, has invested massively – more than 2.2 billion EUR – to support this global solidarity mechanism. This comes in addition to the 5 billion LKR the EU specifically allocated to Sri Lanka to help with addressing the health and socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 crisis”.
Led by the Government of Sri Lanka, the national response to the pandemic in Sri Lanka has seen excellent multilateral, bilateral and civil society collaboration and partnership.
UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, noted the importance of solidarity and partnership in defeating the virus. “Solidarity will save lives, protect people and help defeat this devastating virus. By coming together, the global community has made a promise to ensure there is no inequality in the distribution of the vaccine. COVAX ensures the most vulnerable receive the vaccine, and collectively we must strive to deliver on the promise of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda of leaving no one behind”.
The arrival of this initial batch is the result of an extensive planning process; over the past several months. COVAX partners have been supporting the Government of Sri Lanka in COVID-19 vaccination readiness activities. The Government’s commitment to slowing and preventing the spread of COVID-19 is reflected in their early vaccine roll out and continued efforts to distribute vaccines equitably.