Bangladesh is set to revive its mass vaccination mission with a special drive to inoculate one crore people in six days. The programme will start on 7 August and continue till 12 August.
The drive will be followed by vaccination of one crore people every month until the end of the year as the health authorities are more confident of getting the required supplies of vaccines from multiple sources.
Need to cover 40% population
The special drive, first of a series of more such drives, will accelerate the vaccination pace at par with the IMF assessment to vaccinate over 6 lakh people each day to cover 40% population this year – a threshold set by the global lender for being on the recovery track.
Bangladesh was well ahead of many Asian countries in initiating vaccination. In the vaccination master plan devised last year, the government envisaged to inoculate 13.82 crore or 80% of the total population in three phases in two years, starting from early 2021.
But supply uncertainties put the ambitious plan behind the schedule despite a good start with Indian-made Oxford vaccine. As per the blueprint, about Tk6,815 crore – including Tk4,313 crore for vaccine purchase alone – was allocated for the country’s biggest ever vaccination mission which planned to vaccinate roughly seven crore people in the first year.
The masterplan kept in mind the need for cold chain arrangements to transport and store Moderna and Pfizer vaccines which were required to be kept at below 0 degrees Celsius.
Approval of the Oxford vaccine made it easier for the government to go ahead with the plan as the vaccine can be stored at 2-8 degrees Celsius. As India suddenly stopped the supply of Oxford vaccines, Bangladesh’s vaccination drive fell flat until China’s Sinopharm was made available for a fresh start.
Gradually, Moderna has been added to the list for mass vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine also in limited use.
The special drive starting from 7 August seems to give a boost to the vaccination master plan as roughly one crore are expected to get a shot every month in a chase to inoculate seven crore people in the first year till 22 February.
Everything depends on vaccine availability
Health directorate Director General Prof Dr ABM Khurshid Alam said they have plans to conduct the six-day campaign in September too.
“But everything depends on vaccine availability,” he noted, adding they are hopeful about receiving vaccine consignments on time in upcoming months.
The health directorate now has 55.76 lakh doses of Sinopharm vaccine, 47.35 lakh doses of Moderna vaccine, 50,000 doses of Pfizer and 13 lakh doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Rural areas will administer Sinopharm shots while the Moderna vaccine will be available in urban areas.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque recently said two crore doses of vaccines would arrive in August as the country would get around 21 crore doses by next year – enough shots to inoculate 80% of the population.
So far, the vaccination drive has covered around 1.34 crore people. Of them, more than 91 lakh people took their first shot while around 43 lakh citizens have completed the two doses.
According to the IMF, Bangladesh needs to vaccinate more than 6 lakh people every day to reach at least 40% inoculation target by the end of this year.
The health directorate plans to jab 1.34 crore people in the six-day campaign that will cost the government more than Tk36 crore.
The immunisation will begin at 9am and continue until 3pm every day where elderly citizens and women will be prioritised.
Existing district and upazila storage chains can accommodate three crore doses of vaccines at 2-8 degree Celsius. Besides, there are facilities to store 1.5 crore shots at minus 15-25 degree and 35 lakh doses at minus 70 degree Celsius, said the health directorate vaccination plan.
It said the government would use vaccine Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) storages, warehouses of Beximco and Incepta pharmaceuticals and Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) warehouse.
BADC Chairman Amitavh Sarker said they have given two chambers of their specialised Dhaka airport warehouse for vaccine storage. The chambers can provide storage facilities of up to minus 25 degree Celsius.
Amitavh, however, said the health directorate was yet to inform him about taking over BADC facilities across the country.
Getting enough manpower maybe a challenge
Health assistants of the EPI programme will be administering the Covid vaccines during the six-day drive.
Sheikh Rabiul Alam Khokon, president of the Bangladesh Health Assistant Association, told The Business Standard Monday that the health directorate was training the 15,000 health assistants.
Khokon said family planning staff and volunteers would help them during the vaccination campaign.
But the health directorate director general thinks the upcoming vaccination campaign may face a manpower crisis as 50% of the health assistant posts are vacant.
“Moreover, we have concern over vaccination turnout in hard-to-reach areas during the monsoon. We are insisting schools to turn out into vaccination centres so that inclement weather does not slow us down,” said Prof Khurshid Alam.
Rural centres abuzz with preparation
Vaccines have already started to reach the upazila health facilities as the vaccinators receive training.
Citizens at the centres will be able to get jabbed by showing their national identity cards, unlike the current online registration prior to the inoculation. The health directorate is in talks with the local public representatives and religious leaders to ensure the community level engagements.
Dr Mohammad Ekram Ullah, civil surgeon of Brahmanbaria district, told TBS Monday that they would be able to complete the vaccination preparations by Wednesday.
In the district, 1.75 lakh people will be inoculated at 98 unions. The civil surgeon said their daily inoculation target is 600 people on an average.
Manikganj Civil Surgeon Dr Anwarul Amin Akhand said they have almost completed the preparation and 39,000 people will be jabbed in the district per day at 65 unions.
Ataul Gani Usmani, upazila nirbahi officer of Bandarban’s Thanchi, said the ward-level pandemic prevention committees have been dispatched to run vaccination awareness campaigns as two unions of his upazila – Remakri and Tindu – are out of mobile network coverage.
Mohammad Yamin Hossain, upazila nirbahi officer of Bandarban’s Ruma, said they are engaging the community heads in the campaign to expand vaccination outreach among the ethnic people.
Satkhira’s Shyamnagar Upazila Family Planning Officer Dr Ajay Kumar Saha said they will hold talks with local teachers and religious leaders on vaccination.
Dr Al Bidhan Mohammad Sanaullah, civil surgeon (acting) of Shariatpur district, said a micro-level planning is going on to determine the number of vaccine recipients aged above 18 years.
Deputy Civil Surgeon Dr Jonmejoy Datta citizens will be jabbed at 100 vaccination centres at 100 unions on the basis of first come first serve.
Health directorate director general Prof Khurshid Alam said the health ministry will hold an inter ministerial meeting Tuesday on the upcoming campaign.
“We are very optimistic about the campaign as Bangladeshis are vaccine-friendly,” he added.
We’ll have a deal with Sinopharm to jointly manufacture vaccine: FM
Apart from the bulk-buy deal, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen Monday said Bangladesh is going to sign an agreement with Chinese Sinopharm to jointly manufacture Covid vaccine.
“We have received 70 lakh doses of vaccine in one month from China after the bulk buy deal. More shots will arrive this month too as Sinopharm assured us an uninterrupted supply. But the demand for the vaccine is high,” said Momen.
Referring to Turkey’s joint vaccine manufacturing with Sinopharm to start in August, he said, “After the discussions, Chinese ambassador to Dhaka has sent a draft of the joint manufacturing agreement to Chinese health ministry. The starting of the joint production may take two months after the final deal.”