A health worker innoculates a colleague with a Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine at a government hospital in Homagama on January 29, 2021 (AFP)
COLOMBO: Sri Lanka on Friday launched its national coronavirus immunisation campaign by administering the first shots to frontline health workers, soldiers and security personnel, a day after India gifted 500,000 doses of Covishield vaccine to the island nation.
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday thanked India for its generosity after he received 500,000 doses of Covishield vaccine donated by the country under the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.
The consignment was packed in 42 boxes.
Rajapaksa was joined at the airport by the Indian envoy in Colombo Gopal Baglay.
Frontline health workers, the Army and Police are on the priority list to receive the coronavirus vaccine, the Colombo Gazette reported.
The coronavirus vaccination programme will begin at six hospitals in and around Colombo. The first jabs were given to three soldiers at the Army Hospital in Colombo, the report said.
Senior Consultant Physician at the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) in Angoda Dr. Ananda Wijewickrama became the first healthcare official to receive the vaccine, it said.
The Health Ministry said earlier that the vaccination programme will be carried out on the staff at six hospitals on Friday, the report added.
Health Services deputy director general Dr. Hemantha Herath said that selected staff at the Colombo National Hospital, Colombo South Teaching Hospital, Colombo North Teaching Hospital, Homagama Base Hospital, Colombo East Base Hospital and the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH) in Angoda will be vaccinated, the report added.
He said that around 25 per cent of the staff at these hospitals will be vaccinated at the start.
A total of 250,000 people, mostly health frontline workers, members of the security forces and police and the vulnerable aged, will get the vaccine on a priority basis. Sri Lanka has recorded more than 61,000 coronavirus cases so far with 297 deaths.
India is one of the world’s biggest drug-makers and an increasing number of countries have already approached it for procuring the coronavirus vaccines.
The Oxford-Astrazeneca’s Covishield vaccine is manufactured by Serum Institute of India. This has been approved for emergency use by the Sri Lankan government.
The gift from India is in line with India’s continued support to Sri Lanka in fighting the COVID pandemic. Four consignments of medical supplies weighing around 25 tonnes were donated by India, which also organised online experience-sharing programmes for Sri Lankan medical professionals.
The two nations have also put up a joint front in the COVID-19 battle with India and Sri Lanka being the largest contributors to the COVID-19 Emergency Fund for SAARC. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had complimented Sri Lanka’s leadership on containing the pandemic.