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By Rathindra Kuruwita

COVID vaccine phobia was still prevalent among the people and this might cause serious issues in a future pandemic unless it is addressed, Dr. Ruwan Wijayamuni of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) said during a seminar in Colombo this week.

The seminar was organised by the Institute of Health Policy (IHP) to publicize the findings from the Gates Ventures Johns Hopkins University, and IHP study on the Sri Lanka’s health system’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have to study results of vaccination and look at case studies and present to people. There is vaccine hesitancy in the community” he said.

Dr. Nilmini Wijemunige, Research Associate of IHP, said that there was a high demand for the Pfizer vaccine at the outset of the vaccination process.IHP contacted a large number of people who had not been vaccinated by mid-2021, and the overwhelming majority of them wanted the Pfizer vaccine, she said.

However, there was reduced interest in getting the Pfizer booster a year later. This was probably due to the reduced anxiety about the virus and because preventive messaging was for a long period was to take two doses to create adequate immunity, she said.

President of The Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA), Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne said that there was a strong element of trust in the medical system initially and thus there was little vaccine hesitancy among Sri Lankans.

“There was also widespread fear among the people initially about COVID. But there was vaccine hesitancy by the time we started on the boosters. Six million doses of Pfizer was wasted because people didn’t come forth,” he said.

Christine Perera of People’s Movement for the Rights of Patients said there were virtually no programmes to ensure the wellbeing of the elders during the pandemic.

“Sometime after curfew was declared I got in touch with all relevant authorities supposed to be in charge of the elderly and disabled. As you know many elderly live alone, there are many authorities looking after the welfare of elderly and disabled and I inquired if there were any special programmes established to ensure the wellbeing of the elderly. Other than asking those to stay at home there was no assistance whatsoever. Ms Perera asked what is the mandate of those in authority and what role did they play during covid-19.”

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