Getting Vaccinated against COVID-19 in Sri Lanka

In late January, Sri Lanka received 500,000 doses of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine from India. This created the platform for the rollout of the vaccines in Sri Lanka’s, primarily administered to healthcare staff. Thereafter, a total of 264,000 doses have arrived in March, provided by the World Health Organisation. This has been administered to the public with priority being given to those above 60 years of age in high-risk areas.

The vaccine, given in two doses, is set to begin its second rollout on the 19th of April 2021. Concerns arose when India decided to temporarily hold exports of the “Covishield” vaccine to cater to the rise in domestic demand. However, Sri Lanka has sufficient doses until the end of May, which ensures that the recipients of the first dose will obtain the second dose without any delay.

600,000 doses of the Chinese anti-COVID-19 vaccine “Sinopharm” arrived in Sri Lanka on the 31st of March, donated by the Government of China. As per their request, priority will be given to the Chinese residents of Sri Lanka. Concern has been expressed by an independent panel of medical specialists appointed by the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) who concluded that there is insufficient data provided to determine the safety, efficacy and immunogenicity of this vaccine. However, the NMRA Board decided to allow for the administration of the Sinopharm vaccine under section 109 of the NMRA act.

How it works

The ideal interval between injections is around 12 weeks apart, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). A recent study found out that the first dose sparks partial immunity (30%-40%) in the system, priming the body against the virus. This takes around two weeks after administration. The second dose increases immunity to approximately 70%, strengthening the body to fight the virus if necessary. It is crucial to receive the second dose of the vaccine within the recommended time frame as it will further enhance the immunity. It is important to make sure to get both doses from the same manufacturer.

Since there is no live virus in the vaccine, there is no risk of infection.

Side effects and remedies

Side effects depend on the individual. Dr Shreen Willathgamuwa, Resident Family Physician and Executive Wellness Centre in Charge at Durdans hospital stated that 14% of recipients suffer from side effects.

“Common symptoms that we have seen are headaches, muscle aches, pain in the arm and throat irritation,” said Dr Wilathgamuwa. “They occur within 24 hours after the vaccination but patients are held under observation to ensure that no adverse reactions take place. So it is very important to rest for 24 hours.” Other side effects also include lymph node swelling, chills and fatigue.

There have been reports of rashes at the injection site, as a result of a mild allergic reaction. This is not a reason to avoid getting a second dose.

Aftercare and concerns

Drinking lots of fluids is recommended to relax the muscles which alleviate symptoms. Activities that lower immunity such as drinking alcohol or smoking can also affect the efficiency of the vaccine.

The vaccination is not administered to people with Anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction causing collapse) due to the uncertainty of the outcome. Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers are also not eligible for the vaccine. Persons with organ transplants, who are taking immunosuppressants are also amongst those that cannot be vaccinated.

Although the availability of the vaccine is a source of reassurance after more than a year of uncertainty, it is still important to remember that the Coronavirus is a rapidly changing phenomenon that will have pharmaceutical companies racing to overcome it. In the global context many different variants of the virus has been detected and also research shows that the virus is evolving. Therefore, maintaining social distancing, precautions during traveling, hand hygieneand preventative practices are of utmost importance.

The testing for COVID 19 is a priority especially if symptoms appear, which will help prevent transmission to others.