Covid-19 jab controversy: GMOA questions creation of new category

Namal promises countrywide inoculation of 20-30 group soon

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) has questioned the rationale behind vaccinating those between 20-30 years of age and the prioritisation of districts, contrary to a consensus reached with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Assistant Secretary, GMOA, Dr. Naveen de Zoysa, on Thursday (2), accused the Epidemiology Unit of following a politically motivated agenda inimical to the government’s overall response to the raging Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Samitha Ginige is the Chief Epidemiologist.who replaced Dr. Sudath Samaraweera in June this year.

Dr. de Zoysa alleged that Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Dr. Sanjeewa Munasinghe has backed the Epidemiology unit strategy, thereby placing the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena and the Deputy Director General of Health Services (Public Health Services) Dr. Mahendra Arnold in an extremely difficult and embarrassing position.

Dr. de Zoysa alleged that they had lost control of the vaccination drive.

The GMOA fired a salvo in the wake of the Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry announcement of the launch of vaccination drive in the Hambantota district meant to inoculate those in the 20-30 age group.

It quoted Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry Namal Rajapaksa as having said the inoculation of that particular group was now taking place in the Hambantota district and would soon be implemented countrywide.

 Having visited the vaccination centres at Ambalantota, Ranna and Tissamaharama in the Hambantota district, young Minister Rajapaksa emphasized that health sector specialists approved the vaccination of this particular category. He declared that the vaccination drive targeting 20 to 30 group was being implemented with the blessings of the President, the Prime Minister and the Health Minister.

However, GMOA spokesperson Dr de Zoysa questioned the criterion under which those districts were being chosen ahead of others for vaccination and also the particular vaccine allocated on district/age group basis. Dr. de Zoysa declared they were in the dark as regards the latest controversial decision.

The GMOA spokesperson asked why only the military was tasked with inoculating the public with Pfizer vaccine. “Why isn’t the health sector given that opportunity? If we are capable of inoculating the public with Sinopharm, Moderna and Sputnik why not Pfizer,” Dr. De Zoysa asked, urging those in authority to provide a plausible explanation.

Dr. de Zoysa said that irrational decisions had placed the entire Covid-19 fighting process in jeopardy with those responsible taking contradictory stands on the vaccination drive.

In spite of a decision taken with the participation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to release sufficient stocks of Covid-19 vaccines to the health sector, the military continued to receive ample supplies whereas hospitals and other centres managed by civilian staff were in jeopardy. The situation was so bad that civilian managed vaccination could cause quite a serious spread of the disease, Dr. de Zoysa said, pointing out the crisis caused by an ill-informed decision to ask the public to get the first dose from any vaccination centre.

The GMOA urged newly appointed health minister Keheliya Rambukwella to follow the strategy they agreed on. Rambukwella recently succeeded Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi who publicly lamented what she called her unceremonious exit from the health ministry.

Dr. De Zoysa urged the government to take a realistic view of the developing situation and implement a scientifically sound strategy meant to bring down the daily deaths under control by Oct-Nov this year.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry in a statement issued following a meeting Minister Rambukwella had with a health sector delegation led by Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda on Sept 2, stated that the vaccination of 18-30 year category got underway at district basis on Sept 2.

The former Media Minister Rambukwella said that the inoculation of those 30 and above could be completed within two – three weeks and 20 –30 category vaccinated before end of October. According to lawmaker Rambukwella, 20-30 category comprised about 3.7 mn persons.

 The minister explained that in line with the government decision to inoculate frontline health workers, those engaged in essential services as well as those in the garment trade, a substantial number who came within 20-30 category had been inoculated.

 The health ministry statement, however, didn’t refer to the launch of the vaccination programme in the Hambantota district. Subsequently, the health ministry, in another statement, revised the vaccinated category from 18-30 to 20-30.

Well informed sources said that the government should have vaccinated those in the 18-30 category as planned and then inoculate the 15-18 group. Sources pointed out that the vaccination of those in Advance Level classes as well as students sitting the 2021 AL examination had been denied the protection they deserved.

Sources said that the creation of 20-30 category should be examined against the earlier declaration made by President Rajapaksa that the health administration should recommend whether to give a third dose to those who had been vaccinated or vaccinate the category under 30. The President dealt with the issue at a recent meeting of the Covid Prevention Task Force at the Presidential Secretariat.

Sources at Export Processing Zones (EPZs) said that the government took tangible measures to have those working in manufacturing plants within the zones and outside inoculated. Sources said that the intervention made by Minister Namal Rajapaksa in that regard was quite helpful.

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