The authorities have rowed back on the decision to allow private hospitals to join the ongoing mass inoculation drive with vaccine doses from the government's purchase.
Health directorate Director General (DG) Prof Abul Bashar Mohammad Khurshid Alam on Monday said some changes have been made to the initial discussions about engaging the private sector in the vaccination drive with government-provided shots.
"Instead, the private hospitals have been encouraged to import vaccines on their own. And in that case, the government will fix the import and sales prices, and determine how the vaccination at private healthcare facilities will be carried out," he told the press at the health directorate.
On 10 February, private hospitals demanded 10 lakh doses of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine from the government to carry out vaccinations under private arrangements.
MA Mubin Khan, president of the Bangladesh Private Medical College Association, requested that the health minister include private hospitals in the vaccination campaign.
"The government has 70 lakh doses in stock, while another 50 lakh will arrive next month. We will pay the price if the government initially gives us 10 lakh doses," he said at that time.
The Private Medical College Association president said affluent and rich people will take the shots at private hospitals, and the government will fix the vaccination charge.
Responding to the request, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said the government would consider their demand.
"They [private hospitals] will buy vaccines from the government. The prime minister has also approved this. We will give them some doses, not too many. Only the reputed hospitals will get them," the minister said.
However, health experts fear the immunisation programme may become chaotic if private facilities are allowed to conduct vaccinations. The experts cited the scam-tainted Covid-19 testing at some private hospitals and advocated for cautionary measures so that such irregularities do not reoccur.
Noted virologist Prof Nazrul Islam, speaking about the proposal of the private hospitals, said, "Their intention is to profit after joining the vaccination campaign."
Health directorate DG Prof Abul Bashar Mohammad Khurshid Alam on Monday said, "The private sector has come forward to deal with the pandemic, though belatedly. If they had not cooperated, it would have been very difficult for us to deal with the virus. For their cooperation, I am grateful to them."
He said the government plans to immunise teachers first, and then students, as schools and colleges are set to reopen on 30 March.
Prof Abul Bashar said the health directorate has asked the education ministry for the list of registered teachers.
The health directorate DG said teachers aged below 40 will qualify for the mass vaccination campaign as the age limit has been relaxed.
He said there is no concern over getting the shots from India in time.
Over 32 lakh people immunised so far
Bangladesh vaccinated 1.16 lakh people Monday, the 19th day of the nationwide Covid-19 immunisation drive, raising the total inoculation tally to 32,26,825 people.
On Monday, 1,16,300 people – 69,635 male and 46,665 female – received their first shot of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The health directorate said 24,205 individuals were vaccinated in the capital alone.
After receiving the shots, 21 individuals experienced mild side effects.
According to the health directorate, 44,13,892 people registered for the vaccination until Monday afternoon.
On 7 February, Bangladesh rolled out the vaccination campaign and is currently operating at 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.
Eight more Covid-19 deaths
Bangladesh reported eight more deaths from the novel coronavirus in the last 24 hours till Monday morning.
The country's death toll from the virus now stands at 8,416, said a press release issued by the health directorate.
In the last 24 hours, 585 people tested positive for Covid-19, raising the caseload to 5,46,801.
The latest day's infection rate was 4.31% of the total tests while the death rate stands at 1.54%.
In the past 24 hours, 13,570 samples were tested in 216 labs across the country. Bangladesh has tested 40,57,597 samples so far.