The country's ongoing mass Covid-19 vaccination drive has witnessed a setback in the third week of its campaign.
Though doctors and health experts have not specified why the vaccination turnout is declining, they have attributed it to individuals' casual attitudes – such as not taking the shots even after registering for them, and delaying the first shot as the second dose schedule could be during Ramadan.
On top of this, public health experts have expressed concern as the vaccination programme is apparently failing to cover people belonging to the low-income bracket. They said people, regardless of class, have to be immunised immediately to cap deaths and virus cases.
Bangladesh rolled out the inoculation drive on 7 February and the first week of the drive saw 1.29 lakh people immunised, daily, on average.
Vaccination turnout in the second week – from 15-22 February – jumped to 2.33 lakh per day. On 18 February, more than 2.61 lakh people took their first shot of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is the single-day highest so far.
But turnout has been declining in the third week as 1.42 lakh people took the shots daily, on average, in the last six days. Around 1.14 lakh citizens took the vaccine Tuesday, which is the lowest amount since 9 February.
Hospital directors, physicians and virologists have said people are still interested in getting the vaccine as the fear over vaccine safety has gone away. But many people would prefer to observe the vaccinations for a few more days.
The experts have said if the immunisation drive successfully covers low-income people, turnout will peak again.
Health directorate Spokesperson Prof Dr Nazmul Islam has said he has found no specific reason for the plummeting turnout.
"Many people are not going to the vaccination centres even after getting the messages. Some citizens think they will receive the vaccine after a few days," he said.
Dr Nazmul said students will be brought under the vaccination campaign soon, and then the vaccination rate will increase again.
Kinkar Ghosh, an epidemiologist of the Dhaka Shishu Hospital, said vaccination turnout at their hospital has declined slightly as spot registration stopped and people aged below 40 do not qualify for the immunisation.
"Many of the professionals who were on the vaccination priority list have already taken the first dose. But elderly people who belong to low-income group are not taking it," he added.
Meanwhile, noted virologist Prof Nazrul Islam fears the virus infection rate may rise again if low-income people remain out of vaccine coverage.
"The infections have started to rise again as the winter and its dominating flu viruses have gone. Covid-19 may gain its strength during the summer, and the country may subsequently face a second wave of the pandemic," he added.
Vaccine centres need to reach out to the poor
Brig Gen Nazmul Huque, the director of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, said they are getting only rich and middle-class people at their vaccine centre while the registration for the inoculations is also declining.
"To immunise the low-income people, either we will have to reach out to them, or they will have to be brought to our centres," said Brig Gen Nazmul.
He recommended encouraging low-income people about vaccinations and arranging transportation for them so that they come to the centres. "Otherwise, those who need to be immunised will be left out of the campaign," said the Dhaka medical director.
Health directorate Spokesperson Prof Dr Nazmul Islam said they are working to get slum dwellers and low-income people vaccinated.
The health directorate has been approached by a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who will register the low-income people, and encourage them to take the vaccine. The NGOs will start working soon.
Vaccines allotted for Meherpur almost finished
Dr Mohammad Nasir Uddin, the civil surgeon of Meherpur district, told The Business Standard people of his region are interested in vaccines.
"We got 12,000 doses of the vaccine against more than 14,000 registrations. So far, we have immunised 11,400 people. The remaining 600 doses will be administered in the next two days," he said.
Dr Nasir Uddin said they have asked for more doses and they will arrive soon.
Over 33 lakh vaccinated to date
Bangladesh vaccinated 1.14 lakh people on Monday, the 20th day of the nationwide Covid-19 immunisation drive.
So far, 33,41,505 people have received vaccines since the campaign began on 7 February.
On 2 March, 1,14,680 people, including 68,539 males and 46,141 females, received jabs. At least 24,522 individuals were vaccinated in the capital alone, according to the health directorate.
Till Monday 5:30pm, 45,30,820 people were registered to receive vaccines.
On 7 February, Bangladesh rolled out its vaccination campaign and is currently operating 1,005 vaccination centres across the country. Except for on weekends, around 2,400 teams are inoculating citizens from 8am to 2:30pm every day.
Covid-19 claims seven more lives
Bangladesh recorded seven more deaths from the novel coronavirus and 515 new cases in the last 24 hours till Tuesday at 8am.
The death toll from the virus now stands at 8,423, read a health directorate press release. Also, the number of cases rose to 5,47,316.