Covid-19 vaccination in Bangladesh: Challenges and directions
The general public is sceptical about the safety and efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccine. If they refuse to take the vaccine, all efforts will go in vain
The global Covid-19 vaccination campaign has started. By mid-March, 391 million Covide-19 vaccine shots have been given worldwide.
The second dose of the Covide-19 vaccine in Bangladesh will start to be administered from April 8 as per World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, the health minister said.
So far, over 66 lakh people have been vaccinated (with the first dose) across the country. The minister said priority will also now be given to teachers, air men and those involved in ports as they have been left out of the priority list earlier (frontline workers).
The supply of 7.5 billion doses of the Covid-19 vaccine worldwide is a challenge. The World Health Organisation estimates that up to 47% of vaccines are somehow damaged or exposed during the 'last mile' period of distribution.
The Covid-19 vaccine requires a 'cold chain' to remain safe and effective while travelling around the world and across the country.
Arranging a national temperature-controlled supply chain is not an easy task. It may include many different steps including packaging, distribution, holdings, bulk storage and local storage. This has to be taken seriously and at the same time, we must also continue to work with various partners and donors on the entire cold chain and logistic system for Covid 19 vaccination without impacting the current EPI program mechanism in Bangladesh.
Tracking and monitoring of people who have been vaccinated throughout the process are also vital as it ensures the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. This information can increase confidence in the government and the public.
This is particularly important because this vaccine needs two doses to work, and we need people to come back to get the second one and discuss any potential adverse effects.
We have to think about our role in the vaccine process - such as debunking vaccine-related rumours, speeding up the vaccine process and so on. We may have questions about whether there is any adverse reaction to Covid-19 vaccines or not.
The good news is that cases of serious side effects are extremely rare: about 11 for every one million (10 lakh) patients.
An extensive vaccination campaign requires a lot of coordination. And of course, there will also be a lot of communication needed.
There is a kind of fear regarding this vaccine in the general public, and the public is sceptical about whether it is safe and effective. If the people refuse to take the vaccine, all the efforts will go in vain. We need to have a good public information program to let people know what Covid-19 is.
As viruses are being spread and new variants are circulating worldwide - scientists around the world are analysing what the potential consequences of these variants can be: (a) ability to spread more quickly in people, (b) ability to cause either milder or more severe disease in people, (c) ability to evade detection by specific viral diagnostic tests, (d) ability to evade natural or vaccine-induced immunity.
It raises a question – can the virus be fought by the existing range of vaccines? Do we need a booster vaccine?
Bangladesh might need to widen the coronavirus vaccination campaign soon to include other sections of the society, i.e younger people, since new infections rose in the last few weeks and younger age groups are on the list of the infected. All above the age of 40 are eligible for vaccination in Bangladesh currently. But we need to carefully analyse the infection trend of recent times.
People with co-morbidity have to be given priority like in the first phase. Studies have shown that more than 70% of deaths from Covide-19 are caused by pre-existing non-infectious diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The vaccination program that gives priority to those with pre-existing non-infectious diseases will keep the death rate as low as possible.
Finally, to ramp up the vaccination drive further as well as to increase the vaccination sites manifold, we need to go for public-private partnership modality and to bring competent and gold standard private health services/hospitals/clinics to manage and administer Covid 19 vaccines.
The government has drafted a policy on the participation of the private sector in Covid-19 vaccination in the country. The authority indicated earlier that everything will be included in the policy, from the process of vaccination to pricing. It is time to expedite the process.
People should remember that even if they are immunised, the use of masks, hand washing, social distancing and laboratory tests will always be important for reducing the spread of the virus.
A year after the emergence of Covid-19, the rollout of vaccines has brought hope to individuals, communities and society. We hope that vaccination along with other health measures will help us get back to a life where it is safe to work, travel and meet each other physically.
The vaccination program can help us restore normalcy quickly.
Dr Tarek Hussain, MPH, MA, PgD, FRIPH is an Ex. UN International Health Expert and current National Covid-19 Advisor at the DGHS.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.