Mobile unit taking the jab to elders’ homes with moves to adopt same mechanism for immobile senior citizens in their own homes, says Dr. Ruwan Wijayamuni Six vaccination centres across the city for all other citizens over 60  A special mobile unit was launched on Thursday (March 18) with a team comprising a doctor, a [...]


Special measures for vaccination rollout for elderly in Colombo city


  • Mobile unit taking the jab to elders’ homes with moves to adopt same mechanism for immobile senior
    citizens in their own homes, says Dr. Ruwan Wijayamuni
  • Six vaccination centres across the city for all other citizens over 60

 A special mobile unit was launched on Thursday (March 18) with a team comprising a doctor, a nurse and registration personnel to take the COVID-19 vaccine to all the homes for the elderly within the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) area, while others over 60 can get their jabs at six centres across the city.

“We have 28 such homes in the city and we hope to carry out the programme in three of them daily, after which we hope to use the same mechanism to vaccinate those who are home-bound including the bed-ridden,” said the CMC’s Chief Medical Officer (Public Health Department), Dr. Ruwan Wijayamuni.

This is doable, he was confident because the entire city of Colombo is only 37 km2.

Dr. Wijayamuni said that if there are any immobile elderly in their own homes, their relatives should inform the closest Medical Officer of Health (MOH) office and as soon as the elderly homes are covered, they would give the jab to these people.

The CMC area which has 47 municipal wards is divided into the 6 MOH areas of: Colombo North, Colombo Central A, Colombo Central B, Colombo East, Colombo West and Borella. There is a vaccination centre in each of the six areas and the vaccine is administered daily except on Sunday.

The Chief Medical Officer said that even if people are brought to a vaccination centre and are unable to leave their vehicle, the staff would oblige by going to the vehicle to administer the jab.

“Our estimation is that we have around 100,000 people over-60 in the CMC area. Under the COVAX global vaccine initiative which has sent the first tranche of 264,000 doses to Sri Lanka, we have secured 80,000 doses for our area. However, we see a reluctance from that age group to get the inoculation,” he said.

As the vaccination of those over-60 got into full swing in the CMC area, the Sunday Times learns that under the initial community vaccination drive, 103,269 people over-30 have got their jabs as of Wednesday (March 17).

“Within two weeks we were able to vaccinate the 103,269 people which is a great achievement,” said Dr. Wijayamuni, during a short interview in his Town Hall office on Wednesday, while his mobile and landline kept ringing and people walked in to get this or that document signed.

He said that now the vaccination programme has slowed down “quite a bit” because they are only vaccinating those 60 and above as per the COVAX agreement.

COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access) works with vaccine manufacturers to provide countries worldwide equitable access to safe and effective vaccines, once they are licensed and approved. It is co-led by GAVI (the Vaccine Alliance), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Looking back and then forward to an ‘unprecedented’ vaccination drive in Sri Lanka and specifically in the CMC area, Dr. Wijayamuni says that even though officially the CMC’s population is 561,314 permanent residents, they think there might be around 600,000. The floating population, those who work in Colombo but live elsewhere, is around 500,000.

He explained that when they began the rollout of the vaccine for those over-30, the two criteria on which they based their decision on what areas it should take place were – the COVID-19 disease burden (the number of cases emerging from a particular area) and the number of COVID-19 deaths in a particular area. This was how they chose 19 of the 47 municipal wards.

When asked, he said that no one among those vaccinated in the CMC area had reported any major side-effects, while CMC officials have been told that there will not be a delay with regard to the second dose. They would get the vaccine doses on time to begin inoculating the second round.

Third wave only if variants begin to circulate

There is a probability of a third wave in Colombo if we get the South African or United Kingdom (UK) variants, which spread fast, said Dr. Ruwan Wijayamuni, adding, however, that there has been no information on these variants being in Colombo.

From the beginning up to March 16 (Tuesday), a total of 88,238 COVID-19 cases had been detected in Sri Lanka, 28,809 from the Colombo district and 16,147 (both permanent and temporary residents) from the city of Colombo.

Numbers on the decline

He said that the numbers are reducing within the CMC area. Of the 85,181 RT-PCR tests done from the start, 77,994 tests were carried out during the latest cluster.

Explaining that a reason the number of tests being done has reduced is because people are not showing up for RT-PCRs, Dr. Wijayamuni said there is a huge resistance because they know the strings attached if they test positive, such as being taken away and the family facing challenges.

However, all first-level contacts of a positive case are tested as well as random testing performed in high-risk areas such as the bus-stops at Bastian Mawatha, among vendors, achcharu sellers, vadai sellers and more. They have found that the number of positive people has come down drastically.

Citing the example of areas such as 2nd and 5th Cross Streets, he said that earlier they got a 45% positivity rate but in the last three days there have only been seven positives among 1,052 samples. Therefore, the positivity rate is only 0.66% now.

Dr. Wijayamuni smiles that they say you cannot hide your love or a cough but now “I say you can’t hide your love, a cough or COVID-19. If cases increase then we would see them”.

Getting into technicalities, he said that in Colombo, ‘sero-conversion’ can happen in two ways. Sero-conversion means that a person has developed antibodies which can happen through natural infection or immunization. As the CMC’s Chief Medical Officer, he needs about 70-75% of the people to reach sero-conversion as it is then that if among 100 people, there is 1 person who has the infection, 75 people would already have protection.


The challenges faced in the vaccination programme

The CMC’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Ruwan Wijayamuni conceded that there was some confusion during the early days of the vaccination programme in his area.

“There was a very high demand in a situation where there were limited doses and it was very difficult to control the crowd as people tried various ways, using influence or even coming from areas outside the Colombo city to get the vaccine,” he said, adding that they also had to vaccinate both the permanent and temporary residents.

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