Sri Lanka on Sunday received the first batch of 264,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines provided under the World Health Organisation's COVAX facility, an official said. COVAX is the global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries, regardless of income level.
The first batch of the coronavirus vaccines from the COVAX facility arrived in Sri Lanka on Sunday, the state minister of COVID prevention Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle said.
"Today we received 264,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX Facility to the Ministry of Health," he said.
The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) delivered the first shipment of 264,000 doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine provided to Sri Lanka under the World Health Organisation's COVAX facility.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, Covishield, has been developed in collaboration with Serum Institute of India (SII).
The Pune-based vaccine major has entered into a collaboration with the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca to manufacture the vaccine.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca doses from COVAX will be for the most vulnerable persons above 60 years of age group in the most high-risk areas impacted by COVID-19.
The first shipment of 264,000 COVAX vaccines was delivered through UNICEF via Emirates Sky Cargo, one of the ten leading airlines which have signed agreements under UNICEF's Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative.
The UNICEF, Colombo said the procurement and delivery of this supply of the vaccines through the COVAX Facility underpins the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan of the Ministry of Health (MOH) and will provide critical vaccination support for 20 per cent of the population.
As part of the agreement between the Ministry of Health and the COVAX Facility, the supply of the 1.44 million doses will be procured by UNICEF in stages until May 2021, subject to the availability from manufacturers and authorization by WHO Emergency Use Listing (EUL), the UNICEF said.
The chief epidemiologist Dr Sudath Samaraweera said that Western Province where the capital Colombo is located was chosen as the focal area for vaccination.
"Western province was where the most cases came from and from where the spread was happening," he said.
India has gifted 500,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine which kicked off Sri Lanka's vaccine rollout in late January. The vaccines were given to the frontline workers and the security personnel.
India is one of the world's biggest drug-makers and an increasing number of countries have already approached it for procuring coronavirus vaccines.
In January, India announced it will send COVID-19 vaccines under grant assistance to Sri Lanka and seven other countries - Bhutan, the Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles, Afghanistan and Mauritius.
Sri Lanka has recorded more than 85,000 coronavirus cases so far with 493 deaths.