- Only 5.03 lakh doses of AstraZeneca left
- Most centres stopped administering vaccine
- Dhaka centres may continue delivering shots for 4-5 more days
- 14 lakh partially-vaccinated people are worried over second dose
- Red Crescent promises to extend its support if inoculation resumes
Anderkilla General Hospital, Chattogram has stopped giving Covid shots to people. It has put up a notice on a door at its vaccine centre, which says, "Since the stock has been exhausted, the inoculation drive will remain suspended until further instructions."
Amid a dearth of doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that Bangladesh procured from the Serum Institute of India, the campaign has crawled to a stop at many hospitals in Chattogram, Jessore and many other districts.
Most centres in the capital will continue administering vaccines for not more than 4-5 days.
In a circumstance like this, more than 14 lakh partially-vaccinated people are facing uncertainty over getting the second shot. At the same time, a larger group of the vulnerable population will keep waiting for a Covid vaccine until the government can bring in new batches of AstraZeneca or any other vaccines.
The suspension of the immunisation programme frustrated many vaccine recipients as well as the health workers involved in the drive.
In Chattogram metropolitan area, all 10 vaccine centres have hung a notice declaring suspension of the programme.
As the news spread, many people, who had received the first jab, staged demonstrations in front of Anderkilla General Hospital and City Corporation General Hospital.
An expatriate from Dubai, Morshed Alam said, "My second dose was due on 7 May. But I was turned away and asked to come back today [19 May]. I saw the notice as I came to get my shot. My return flight is on 25 May and I do not know what to do."
Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery in Dhaka can run the campaign for 4-5 days, with the doses it has left.
Dr Ashraful Hoque, co-ordinator at the vaccine centre, said, "We feel sad that the people who need vaccines are not getting it. Many people may feel deprived of not getting the second jab after the first one. Some may feel aggrieved."
It will be difficult to encourage people again to take a vaccine if the drive is halted for some time before it resumes, he said.
Moreover, the health workers engaged in the immunisation programme will be sent back to their previous posting. "The whole environment may not be the same again if the vaccination programme resumes after a gap," Ashraful added.
Requesting anonymity, a nurse working at the centre at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University said, "We have been working for four months at a stretch in the programme without complaining. Now, I have to return to the kidney ward. I got used to the work in the immunisation drive. It feels bad that the drive stalled halfway through."
About 4,500 volunteers of Bangladesh Red Crescent Society have supported the vaccination programme across the country. Now, they are getting involved in some other works. But the organisation said the volunteers will rejoin the drive once it starts again.
Bangladesh saw an impressive start of its countrywide vaccination programme on 7 February with Oxford-AstraZeneca doses, targeting people aged 40 and above. The country immunised more than 1% of its population in just 12 days and stood second in terms of Covid vaccination in South Asia.
Except for the weekends, 2,400 teams have been inoculating adults from 8:00am to 2:30pm every day. As many as 1,005 centres across the country carried out the drive.
But as the supply of vaccine doses from the Indian Serum Institute stopped with a rapid infection surge in the neighbouring country, Bangladesh's immunisation programme hit a snag. Administering the first dose was suspended on 26 April. As of Wednesday, Bangladesh had only 5.03 lakh doses out of 1.2 crore that it received.
In the meantime, five lakh doses of Chinese Sinopharm vaccine have arrived in the country. Next month, 1.6 lakh doses of Pfizer vaccine will be sent by COVAX, a global initiative to ensure equitable access to Covid vaccines.
Intern students at medical colleges and technologists will get the Chinese vaccine. Pfizer vaccine will be given in Dhaka alone, but who will get the doses has not been decided yet.
The government has been trying to buy vaccines from China and Russia, but when it will get them and for how many people have not been agreed upon.
Dr ASM Alamgir, principal scientific officer at the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research and a member of the Covid-19 vaccination core committee, said, "We are disheartened that such a well-managed vaccination programme has suddenly come to a halt due to vaccine shortage. We hope to get vaccines soon."