Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the entire world, there were several points that were considered to be important milestones, regardless of whether they are good or bad. These milestones were reached on a global scale, with our island nation seemingly along for the ride. Thus, it was no surprise when Sri Lanka received its first batch of Covid-19 vaccines from the COVAX facility – three months and 20 million vaccine doses in 20 countries later.
The first batch of Covid-19 vaccines from the COVAX facility to arrive in Sri Lanka was the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII), sent by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as part of COVAX’s commitment to provide 8.4 million vaccine doses to cover 20% of Sri Lanka’s population. As of last Monday (20), nearly six months later, the Map of Vaccinations via Our World in Data shows that at least 11 million people amounting to nearly 51% of the population has been fully vaccinated, while at least 13 million people have received their first dose.
While all these numbers sound good and well, the crux of the matter is that over 95% of these vaccinated individuals are over 30, leaving our young people vulnerable. It is fair enough to say that the reason the numbers for the vaccination of those between the ages of 20 and 29 are not in parallel with those above 30 years of age is because their vaccination only commenced very recently.
When the vaccination of this age group commenced in the beginning of September, Minister of Health Keheliya Rambukwella said the Government hopes to have everyone vaccinated by the end of October 2021. However, reports suggest that voluntary vaccinations dropped from 30% for the first dose of 20-to-29-year-olds to 12.5% during the second dose. Reports also suggest that the younger generation eligible for the vaccine are more hesitant to get vaccinated by what is available – Sinopharm or AstraZeneca – and are simply waiting for the opportunity to receive a dose of either Pfizer or Moderna.
The type of vaccine given in itself is a major point of consideration, especially due to the attitude western countries have towards vaccines that are not in direct correlation with their political plans. For instance, Sputnik does not have WHO approval as of yet due to a number of reasons, while Sinopharm and AstraZeneca are also not recognised by a number of western countries. This makes it very difficult for our younger generation to simply get vaccinated with what is available because many of them hope to travel abroad to these very same western countries for higher studies.
Sri Lanka, together with a number of other countries, is facing a severe spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus. Although the number of cases has dropped from when it peaked in August with 9,912 new cases to 1,300-plus new cases as of 22 September, the fact still remains that the virus is still out there and vaccination is the best chance we have of protecting ourselves.
It is indeed understandable that the younger generation is hesitant to get vaccinated with what is available for the majority. It is also ironic that the “brand” of vaccine seems to be a direct factor in the decision to protect oneself from a life-threatening disease through no fault of the young person. However, the fact also remains that vaccinating oneself is not just an option but a necessity for the world to go back to at least part of what it was pre-pandemic. Simply following health guidelines and living your best life is not sufficient, and it is up to the young generation to understand that. It is also up to the governments and countries as a whole to set aside their political agendas and truly work for the wellbeing of their people, although that, however, is merely a pipe dream – which is why the younger generation must make an effort to do their part for the greater good.