Uncertainty looms over the resumption of the inoculation drive on a large scale with the current stock of 13 lakh doses, at a time when vaccination seems to be the only way forward to economic recovery by curbing infections and deaths from Covid-19 amid the lax enforcement of measures like masking and social distancing.
The latest daily bulletin put the death toll at 78 in a month-long rising trend of virus transmission. Experts fear the number of deaths will continue to climb up if a large number of people are not immunised immediately.
With the limited doses of Pfizer and Sinopharm, a few centres in and outside Dhaka have been giving the first shots to only 3,000 people a day since Saturday.
As of now, 58.2 lakh people have completed the course of double-dose AstraZeneca vaccine. And another 42.7 lakh people have received the first jab and are waiting to get their second shot.
Prof Md Sayedur Rahman, chairman of the pharmacology department at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said it was proved that vaccines could bring down virus transmission and deaths.
"In a matter of seven days, the daily death toll will soar to more than 150 if vaccination is delayed further," he said, adding that the government should procure doses in crores to vaccinate people en masse in the next six months.
Sayedur also suggested a countrywide strict lockdown, restricting public movement and shutting down all offices and shops. Otherwise, infections and deaths will jump, he said.
Rising infections in some areas have already sounded an alarm.
For example, 123 out of 135 people diagnosed with Covid-19 in Chattogram over the last two days are from four upazilas.
The health directorate in Chattogram said easy communication with the port city had led to the rise in infection in the upazilas – Fatikchhari, Hathazari, Sitakunda and Mirsarai.
Data from the Civil Surgeon Office points to a spread of the virus outside the city.
Civil Surgeon Sheikh Fazle Rabbi said the upazilas are adjacent to the city, so people travel to and from the city frequently for work and other purposes.
Bangladesh saw an impressive start of a countrywide vaccination programme on 7 February with doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca, 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 vaccination in South Asia.
On 24 February, Bangladesh ranked 24th globally – still second in South Asia.
The second doses were delivered from 8 April, and roughly 13% of those who had received the first dose completed their second round by 13 April.
As the supply of the Oxford vaccine from India's Serum Institute became uncertain with a rapid infection surge in the neighbouring country, Bangladesh's immunisation programme hit a snag.
On 26 April, Bangladesh stopped giving the first dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. After a long gap, the health directorate resumed giving first shots with 11 lakh doses of Sinopharm vaccine gifted by China.
One lakh doses of Oxford vaccine are now left for second round vaccination and 1.6 lakh Pfizer vaccine will be given in the capital only.
On Monday, 320 people received the first shot of Pfizer at three hospitals in the capital. They will be monitored for a week before Pfizer vaccine will be rolled out.
Bangladesh had made advance payments for 3 crore doses of Oxford vaccine from Serum but received 70 lakh doses.
When the next batch of the vaccine will arrive is uncertain because the Covid situation in India is still alarming, said Vikram Kumar Doraiswami, high commissioner of India.
Prof Nazrul Islam, noted virologist and member of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19, told The Business Standard, the limited vaccine doses were not enough to tackle the prevailing Covid situation.
Meanwhile, Masud Bin Momen, foreign secretary, told journalists that the government was expecting to receive the first consignment of Sinopharm vaccine doses under a commercial agreement in July.
A discussion with Russia is on to get Sputnik-V vaccine, he added.
Moreover, the government is discussing with Chinese authorities to get Anhui Zhifei and Sinovac vaccines. The third-phase trial of Anhui has not completed yet, so Bangladesh may get permission for joint-production but it will take time.