The indefinite strike (over salary hike) of 26,000 health assistants under the health ministry continued for the 12th straight day on Tuesday amid the government's preparations for coronavirus vaccination roll-out.
The strike has already led to the postponement of a nationwide vaccination campaign for measles and rubella.
If the measles and rubella campaign is not immediately executed, there are fears of storage shortage of Covid-19 shots once they reach these shores. Coronavirus immunisation may also be at risk due to a shortage of medical personnel since the health directorate intends Covid vaccination outreach to be led by the health assistants.
According to health directorate Director General Dr ABM Khurshid Alam, measles and rubella shots are currently occupying the country's vaccine cold storage systems.
In a webinar on 19 November, Dr Khurshid Alam feared that if the Covid-19 vaccines reached Bangladesh by January, they would not be able to accommodate them in storage.
"We do require the extra space," said Dr Khurshid.
Echoing the health directorate chief, its spokesperson Dr Habibur Rahman said there will be a storage crisis for Covid-19 shots if the measles-rubella vaccination campaign is not carried out immediately.
In the first week of November, Bangladesh signed a deal with the Serum Institute of India to buy 3 crore doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine being developed by British drugmaker AstraZeneca.
The government has also approved, in principal, a proposal to follow a direct procurement method to source Covid-19 vaccines. Last Friday, Awami League General Secretary and Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader was hopeful that Bangladesh would receive the coronavirus vaccines by January 2021.
Amidst regular updates on vaccine development and approval, the United Kingdom was the first western country to roll-out its inoculation drive on Tuesday.
Health workers in Bangladesh went on indefinite strike upon a breakdown of their negotiations with the government over salary hikes, pay discrimination and promotion.
They said the strike would continue until the government's issuance of an official order to resolve the issues under dispute.
Health directorate spokesperson Dr Habibur Rahman said they have taken a positive stance over the health workers' demands. "The health secretary and the administration have been working to fulfil the demands. However, it may take time," he noted.
Health workers have postponed the measles-rubella vaccination campaign several times since February over their list of demands. Most recently, the six-week long campaign scheduled for roll-out on 5 December was later postponed to 12 December.
Zakir Hossain, spokesperson of the Bangladesh Health Assistants Association, informed the Business Standard that they would not participate in the 12 December campaign if the government did not issue a written order complying with their demands.
However, Health directorate spokesperson Dr Habibur Rahman said, "We will complete the measles-rubella vaccination campaign in any way we can."
He said they would have to find an "alternative" solution if the health assistants insisted on continuing their strike.