As Omicron looms, Sri Laka health experts call for accelerated vaccine rollout | Sinhala News

ECONOMYNEXT – With no guarantee of stopping Omicron, the newly detected COVID-19 variant of concern, public health experts in Sri Lanka have urged the public to get themselves fully vaccinated despite questions over vaccine efficacy.

Some experts have expressed concern that the variant may be able to surpass the immunity boost provided by currently available COVID-19 vaccines.

Health experts in Sri Lanka said, with more countries detecting the Omicron variant in less than a week of its original detection, Sri Lanka’s focus should mainly be on delaying the strain from entering the country.

“We are not sure we can completely stop the variant from coming into the country. Our aim is to delay it as much as possible,” Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) President Dr Padma Gunaratne told reporters on Monday (29).

Gunaratne said, in the meantime, the government must accelerate COVID-19 vaccination to ensure that a majority of the population are inoculated against the disease.

Sri Lanka now has so far vaccinated 15.9 million of the total population with a single dose while 13.7 million have received both first and second doses.

Continuing the booster dose administration for frontline workers and people over 60 years of age, the island’s health authorities have so far given the Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot for 521,483.

Following the declaration of Omicron as a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on November 26, Sri Lanka banned inbound flights from six African countries as a preventative measure.

“We cannot determine the Omicron variant[‘s presence] without performing a gene sequencing test. Everyone coming into the airport is not going to get a gene sequencing test because that’s not practical,” Deputy Director General of Health Dr Hemantha Herath told reporters on Monday.

“We have to make sure that arrivals take a PCR test before arriving, and quarantine anyone who comes in without being fully vaccinated.”

The WHO has recommended that countries take the following preventive measures:

  • Enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants.
  • Submit complete genome sequences and associated metadata to a publicly available database, such as GISAID.
  • Report initial cases/clusters associated with VOC infection to WHO through the IHR mechanism.
  • Where capacity exists and in coordination with the international community, perform field investigations and laboratory assessments to improve understanding of the potential impacts of the VOC on COVID-19 epidemiology, severity, effectiveness of public health and social measures, diagnostic methods, immune responses, antibody neutralization, or other relevant characteristics.

Individuals are reminded to take measures to reduce their risk of COVID-19, including proven public health and social measures such as wearing well-fitting masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing, improving ventilation of indoor spaces, avoiding crowded spaces, and getting vaccinated.

“The coming weeks will be very dangerous with more people gathering in shopping malls,” Herath said.

“Since we have prior experience in what can happen if spreading increases, I ask the public to not to wait until the last moment to go shopping, and to follow the guidelines and avoid gatherings and other places where the virus can spread easily.”

Meanwhile, the manufacturer of the Moderna vaccine, the Moderna Pharmaceuticals company issuing a statement said it is working rapidly to test the ability of the current vaccine dose to neutralise the Omicron variant. Data is expected in the coming weeks, the company said.

Moderna is already studying two multi-valent booster candidates in the clinic that were designed to anticipate mutations such as those that have emerged in the Omicron variant, a statement said. The first candidate (mRNA-1273.211) includes several mutations present in the Omicron variant that were also present in the Beta variant of concern.

“The company has completed dosing in a potentially pivotal safety and immunogenicity study of mRNA-1273.211 at the 50 µg (N=300) and 100 µg (N=584) dose levels,” Moderna said.

“A second multi-valent candidate (mRNA-1273.213) includes many of the mutations present in the Omicron variant that were also present in the Beta and Delta variants.”

The company has completed dosing at the 100 µg (N=584) dose level and also plans to explore the 50 µg dose level in approximately 584 participants.

Moderna said it will rapidly expand testing of sera from completed and ongoing multi-valent booster studies to determine if these multi-valent candidates are able to provide superior neutralising protection against Omicron.

The company has the ability to advance new candidates of the vaccine to clinical testing in 60-90 days and will rapidly advance an Omicron-specific booster candidate, it said.

“From the beginning, we have said that as we seek to defeat the pandemic, it is imperative that we are proactive as the virus evolves. The mutations in the Omicron variant are concerning and for several days, we have been moving as fast as possible to execute our strategy to address this variant,” said Stéphane Bancel, Chief Executive Officer of Moderna.

“We have three lines of defense that we are advancing in parallel: we have already evaluated a higher dose booster of mRNA-1273 (100 µg), second, we are already studying two multi-valent booster candidates in the clinic that were designed to anticipate mutations such as those that have emerged in the Omicron variant and data is expected in the coming weeks, and third, we are rapidly advancing a Omicron-specific booster candidate (mRNA-1273.529).” (Colombo/Nov29/2021)

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