As the people's concern over accessibility of the much-talked-about Covid-19 vaccine grows, The Business Standard recently has reached Professor Muzaherul Huq, to discuss about the issue.
Muzaherul, a former adviser of the World Health Organization's Southeast Asia region, recommends that Bangladesh should immediately tap multiple sources of vaccines and then, make the vaccination hassle-free for the vulnerable groups.
TBS: Given the uncertainty surrounding the arrival of vaccines; are you worried Bangladesh might fall behind in its plans to vaccinate 80% of the pop ation in just two years?
Muzaherul: Bangladesh with it's EPI program and it's quality implementation is quite experienced in its immunization and vaccination program. With a timely availability Bangladesh could successfully implement its COVID-19 vaccination program effectively and timely as planned in a 2 year time period.
TBS: Should we have sourced the vaccines for multiple sources instead of a single one, given the current predicament?
Muzaherul: Most of the countries have already more than one source to get the vaccine. Given the current situation, Bangladesh should immediately tap the other sources, and the best choices would be either China or Indonesia.
TBS: In that case, should we have given the go-ahead for human trials to the vaccine developed by Chinese company Sinovac Biotech?
Muzaherul: Yes. We missed that opportunity, but if possible we are to contact China and avail the opportunity to get the Chinese Sinovac vaccine.
TBS: Given that we plan to vaccinate only 1.5 cr people in the first 6 months, do you feel that is enough to build hard immunity in the population?
Muzaherul: No, it is not enough. We must develop immunity among 60% of our population at the least. And six months is a very short time to cover such a large population.
TBS: What is the government doing to ensure that the most vulnerable groups - old people and people with comorbidity - receive the vaccine first?
Muzaherul: As far as I have learnt, the government is not doing enough, and even not taking proper steps to ensure their vaccination.
The poor and ultra-poor population who are in relative and absolute poverty, and are in urban and rural settings of the country should be vaccinated free of cost, starting from the village to the cities.
TBS: Should we have tried to build a cold chain capacity to acquire Pfizer or Moderna vaccines given that they have been proven to be far more effective than Astra-Zeneca? Is there still time to do that?
Muzaherul: No, it is not possible at this stage. It requires a preparedness, and one that needs time to achieve. A better option would be if we try with the existing cold chain and expand it and import a suitable vaccine.
Time is short and we are to contain this deadly virus.
TBS: Do we require our social distancing protocols to be in place once the vaccination starts as well?
Muzaherul: We have to follow all the protocols to contain the virus, and to strictly follow and maintain the following:
1. Proper hand washing and sanitization
2. Wearing proper and certified masks
3. Distancing ourselves and avoiding crowded place
TBS: What are your thoughts on using a vaccine that has been sped through the trial process? Do you anticipate any dangers and side-effects?
Muzaherul: Only vaccines recommended by WHO should acquired by Bangladesh. We cannot take any chances, or follow an incomplete plan which may in turn affect our people. Only WHO approved vaccines are to be procured. To wait is a better option, and can be done by following guidelines and proper preventive measures.