How I Got Vaccinated In Sri Lanka

We struggle to get vaccines, but at least we can distribute them

I got a shot, in my neighborhood we all got a shot. Basically, street by street, we’re getting vaccinated. This is how people are getting vaccinated in one part of the Third World, Sri Lanka.

Finding Out

When I say street by street I mean literally that. They apparently strap a loudspeaker on top of a three-wheeler and go around telling streets it’s their turn. I say apparently because I’m home all day and I didn’t hear shit. We just heard through a neighbor and it spread through there. That neighbor had been calling the health office every day.

Is communication good? No, but every maid and driver somehow knew, so it works well enough. Could it be better organized? Absolutely, but it’s better to have a shitty system now than a better system later. Note that I’m only saying this for my municipality, the process is very decentralized and I’ve heard it’s a complete mess in other parts.

People have a lot of complaints but I’ve gotten vaccinated, my parents got vaccinated, many people I know have. It’s not perfect, but it works. My only suggestion would be to talk to your neighbors, and tackle the communication problem together. Even then we had to physically go there to get more information.

Could this be better? Yes, but it could much more easily be worse. If they spent time designing a perfect system it A) wouldn’t be perfect and B) they wouldn’t be vaccinating people in that time. I think this is fine.

One major problem with this system is very elderly people and people with disabilities. My aunt has Parkinson's and can barely move. I still don’t know how we get her vaccinated, and this is a problem.

What I will note is that, from a software perspective, this is basically an MVP. A Minimum Viable Product. Basically something shit and on fire that still accomplishes the minimum requirement. In this case, getting shots in arms. The Sri Lankan government is somehow doing that.

Getting In

So literally 100% of what the officials were doing was finding out who was from ‘there’, in this case Kohuwala, and who was eligible. Today they were vaccinating Kohuwala, but everyone else had to leave. In the morning they were only vaccinating elders, so you were under 60 (and above 30) you had to come back later.

The Honor System

This is all basically done on an honor system. My ID says one place, my voter registration another, and none of it is in Kohuwala, where I live. Many people are like this. I brought a municipal rate payment receipt, but even that doesn’t have my name on it. Luckily, they didn’t really check.

Basically, they took our word on it. They ask you 40 times, but if you’re willing to lie 40 times you could get injected there. We came with my in-laws cook and driver, and they have no proof of residence in Kohuwala at all. They still got through fine. The officials just keep asking if you live there, and people seem to tell the truth and bounce themselves.

It’s basically an honor system in lieu of complicated eligibility checks. Even age they didn’t really check. I think this works and I also don’t know how else you’d do it.

The Seats

Once they figured out you were eligible, you could sit down on a plastic chair, under a tent. This blew my Amma’s mind because apparently in Colombo city people had to stand around ‘like cattle’.

It honestly felt like musical chairs because we kept moving butts as the line moved, which was quite often. An official literally wrote out 1–100 on strips of paper and handed them out, which we held onto for dear life. Could I just write a number on a piece of paper? Yes, it was an honor system.

A cop would check this paper and then they let you in through a gate to the vaccination site. All still outdoors mind you, everything was completely ventilated and outdoors. This was not really by design per se, this is just how Sri Lanka is. One dude didn’t have his piece of paper and the cop tried to bounce him, but the health officials let him in.

Getting Shot

Once you’re in, you fill out some forms. At this point they’re not ‘checking’ anything, they’re largely helping you fill out your own vaccination card. Then you wait for vaccination. There’s even tea, but I’m not opening my fucking mouth in public yet.

In the photo above there’s some detail I can explain. So the dude in the center, in the brownish polo, that’s a dengue control officer. Some of them came to the house just last week. Sri Lanka actually has a robust public health infrastructure that’s working on COVID now. To his left, just above his head, is a brown uniform that looks like a cop, but that’s actually a public health officer, they have full military garb.

Then there’s a nurse, in a blue smock, and to her right what looks like a Ministry of Health official in a tie. You can see the actual vaccination site at top left.

At this point you get your card and you’re sent off to get vaccinated. This part is surprisingly fast. I just sat down, rolled up my sleeve and the nurse quickly poked me and we were done. Then they told us to hang around for 20 minutes in case we had a reaction. And then we were finished. We just had to come back in ten weeks.

For us it took 1:15. My Amma said it took over 3 hours and they had to wait in line twice. Some people have had it worse, I think we’d be the best case scenario. Whatever the scenario, it somehow works. People are getting vaccinated. That’s the most important thing.

The Geopolitics

That’s how I got vaccinated, but how we got the vaccines is another story. I think this batch was either through COVAX or bought directly from India. The only countries actually helping at India, China, and Russia. Rich nations are being total assholes. mRNA vaccines are basically whites only and rich, western nations are blocking patent-free vaccines at the WTO.

Sri Lanka is lucky because we’re close to India and they’re sharing vaccine with us even though they don’t have enough for themselves. The Serum Institute is the biggest producer in the world. They’re making the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine under the brand name Covishield.

It’s important to note that more factories could this if the west wasn’t blocking patent-free rights at the WTO and impeding technology sharing. This is a crime against humanity and it won’t go forgotten. You fucking monsters.

Sri Lanka is lucky, but a lot of other countries aren’t. Vaccine distribution across the world is still wildly unequal, and we’re divided against the virus. Right now Europe has nearly 1 million doses of the Oxford vaccine that they’re not even using, but they’ve blocked exports anyways. These are, and I will repeat, ongoing crimes against humanity.

Hence the fact that I, some random arm in the Third World, has gotten vaccinated is not proof that all is right in the world. We still need patent-free vaccines and global sharing of mRNA technology to fight this and future pandemics. And that isn’t happening because rich, white nations are greedy, incompetent bastards. Sri Lankans are somehow managing to survive despite you actively trying to kill us, but just fucking stop. Leave the vaccine race and join the human race instead.

I publish every article early on Patreon, and do also do a weekly round-up and exclusives.

Indi Samarajiva is a writer living in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Sign up for my newsletter at www.indi.ca, and you can reach me at indi@indi.ca.

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