The vaccination challenge | Daily News


The vaccination challenge

A threatened Humanity right now urgently focuses on the search for an anti-COVID-19 vaccine but, our capacity to carry out mass scale, comprehensive vaccination of the population is the other challenge. Last Thursday, the Global Vaccination Summit addressed just that.

The internet-hosted virtual summit convened by the United Kingdom and attended by 52 states, vaccine producers, scientists and world institutions was organised by the Global Vaccine Alliance or ‘Gavi’ for short. The Summit saw pledges of up to US $ 8.8 billion in financial contributions by donor governments, business leaders, corporates and, philanthropic agencies toward the global child vaccination and immunisation endeavour.

Thanks to a consistent State social welfare policy since freedom from colonial rule, Sri Lanka has long operated an extensive system of vaccination and immunisation. An accessible health infrastructure that reaches all citizens has ensured a permanent vaccination regime and has contributed much to the nation’s public health success within the world community.

As President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pointed out while addressing the web conference, the country’s immunization policy was based on “the right of a child to receive timely immunization”. He informed the Summit that: “Sri Lanka invests in quality vaccines which are pre-qualified by the WHO and registered. Our objective is to safeguard the quality and potency of the vaccines to ensure adequate immune development in each child”.

The President noted that nearly 98% of the immunisation programme cost is borne by the State, providing financial sustainability of the programmes.

The President is referring to an elaborate and well-tested health administrative system that is operated by a whole cohort of managers, scientists, medical professionals and attendant staff cadres. All these personnel can justly be proud of the national health system’s achievements with regard to immunisation.

Large sections of the country’s medical professionals are directly on the frontline in the battle to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. There are also teams of medical scientists busy searching for both a cure as well as a vaccine against this new disease. While a cure or cures is one goal, more urgent is a vaccine that will at least help contain and safely manage the disease until a cure is found.

Scientists of the Medical Research Institute are coordinating with researchers in the country’s universities in the hunt for a vaccine. A team at the University of Sri Jayawardenapura has already reported some progress and caught world scientific attention.

One of the highlights of last week’s Vaccination Summit, from Sri Lanka’s point of view, was the commitment by convener, UK, to grant financial aid to support the University of Sri Jayawardenapura’s COVID-19 scientific programme. The UK government will reportedly give Rs. 10 million to support immunology research between scientists at the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Oxford, and at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. The Sri Lankan scientists are studying the immune response of Covid-19 patients in different populations.

The challenge to urgently find a vaccine and a cure for COVID-19 was a major agenda focus at the Vaccine Summit. Its target was to raise US$ 7.4 billion to distribute vaccines to combat infectious diseases such as malaria, cholera, measles and HIV/AIDS in some of the poorest countries of the world over the next five years. That the Summit closed with a collection of $ 8.8 billion was the measure of its fund-raising success.

The Vaccine Alliance, which vigorously builds funding coalitions between the business community and immunisation delivery agencies, has already set up an ‘International Finance Facility for Immunisation’ (IFFIm), which will be used when needed to quickly raise funds on the world’s capital markets.

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven home the vital importance of viable and comprehensive health systems and infrastructure in ensuring the survival of human society as it seeks to thrive amid its natural environment. If there was a time when laissez faire advocates theorised about the market’s ability to meet all human material needs, after the COVID-19 outbreak there has been a recognition corporates alone could not resolve pandemics.

On the one hand, simultaneous State intervention on numerous fronts of public health and social behaviour has been necessitated simply in order to counter the sheer speed of the contagion and the deceptive nature of its physiological impact. On the other, State intervention has also been needed to offset the economic and social damage caused by the sweeping shutdown of economic life in the face of the pandemic.

However, the private sector has already come into its own with the speed of responsive production of sanitation and hygiene equipment and infrastructure. The private sector has delivered in providing groceries and other consumer services relatively smoothly during the suddenly imposed curfew across the country.

We step into the pandemic afflicted world to revive livelihoods and the global economy, knowing full well that threat remains deadly real and potentially devastating. So we must wait hopefully as the world’s corporates and governments, entrepreneurs, scientists and bureaucrats all coordinate and collaborate in the endeavours to overcome this deadly plague.

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