Kumudesh offers conditional backing for making vaccination mandatory

‘Give young people opportunity to choose desired jab’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

President of the College of Medical Laboratory Science Ravi Kumudesh offered conditional backing for making Covid-19 vaccine mandatory.

One of the strongest critics of the government’s response to the unprecedented health emergency, Kumudesh told The Island that such a move couldn’t be accepted unless the government ensured the public had an opportunity to receive the desired vaccine.

 Sri Lanka launched the vaccination drive on January 29th, within 24 hours after receiving 500,000 Covishield doses from India.

 The Island raised the contentious issue of mandatory vaccination in the wake of several persons, including Justice Minister Ali Sabry, Covid -19 control State Minister Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle and former Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission Dr. Deepika Udagama declaring their support for making vaccination mandatory to counter the pandemic.

The civil society activist emphasised that the government shouldn’t expect the public to accept whatever offered at the vaccination centres. “Let the people make a choice. Give them an opportunity to decide on the vaccine,” Kumudesh said, strongly opposing the moves to restrict the movements of those so far unvaccinated.

 Kumudesh was responding to a recent announcement that those 30 and above would be subjected to routine checks beginning Sept 15 to ensure they received vaccination.

Asked whether the College of Medical Laboratory Science would accept making vaccination mandatory on the basis of those having compelling medical reasons given the opportunity to shun it, Kumudesh emphasized the two issues shouldn’t be mixed. He asked whether it would be fair to deprive those seeking opportunities in the US, Europe and other parts of the world by inoculating them with Sinopharm. “Regardless of our stand on Sinopharm, some countries do not recognize Chinese vaccines. Therefore, those seeking opportunities in some selected countries are reluctant to take the Chinese jab,” Kumudesh said. They shouldn’t be penalised by the government, the trade union activist said.

Kumudesh explained that the government should make a serious effort at least now to make available sufficient Sinopharm, AstraZeneca (Covishield), Modena, Pfizer and Sputnik for the targeted groups to choose from. Declaring that Sri Lankans seeking opportunities in the US, Europe and other selected areas preferred vaccines that had received WHO endorsement, Kumudesh said that Sinopharm received only emergency approval.

Responding to another query, Kumudesh said that he received the AZ vaccine that was obtained from India.

Referring to plans to inoculate those under 30 including the student community, Kumudesh urged the government not to disappoint them. “Please give them an opportunity to receive a vaccine of their choice. Take into consideration their future,” Kumudesh said.

 He faulted the government for not taking tangible measures to procure Pfizer against the backdrop of the disruption of AZ supplies from India due to massive eruption of Covid-19 cases there.  Having claimed that Sri Lanka lacked basic facilities required to acquire Pfizer, State Minister of Production, Supply, and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals Prof. Channa Jayasumana later accepted it. The government’s action proved their own argument wrong, Kumudesh said, urging the government to review the entire vaccination process.

Commenting on the inordinate delay in using Sinopharm after receiving stock of 600,000 doses from China, Kumudesh alleged that the government foolishly claimed of a conspiracy. What really happened was at the time Sri Lanka took delivery of a free consignment of Sinopharm it hadn’t received the WHO approval. China delivered the vaccine stock on March 30. Sri Lanka included Sinopharm in the vaccine rollout on May 8 after both WHO and the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) approved the emergency use of Chinese vaccine, Kumudesh said.

 The lab technologist said that the government could have handled the situation so much better if it consulted all stakeholders. Unfortunately, the government responded to the crisis, arrogantly, Kumudesh claimed, flaying the powers that be for declaring victory over the epidemic at an early phase of the struggle.

 The government couldn’t achieve the desired results by declaring lockdowns unless a cohesive action plan was put in place to contain the fast spreading of Covid-19, he said.


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