Bangladesh is set to begin its COVID-19 vaccination campaign today by inoculating 25 frontline healthcare providers, freedom fighters, journalists and law enforcers at Kurmitola General Hospital in the capital.
Amid a growing public doubt about the vaccine’s efficacy, the mass vaccination would commence on February 7 as the country has so far secured 70 lakh doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India.
While visiting the Kurmitola hospital on Tuesday afternoon, health minister Zahid Maleque said that prime minister Sheikh Hasina would inaugurate the vaccination drive at a virtual event at 3:00pm today.
‘She will virtually witness the vaccination of five people here. Thereafter 20 healthcare providers, freedom fighters, journalists and law enforcers will be inoculated on the day,’ he said.
Up to 500 frontline healthcare providers will be vaccinated at four other hospitals in the capital on Thursday for observation for a week before the mass vaccination programme is rolled out on February 7, instead of earlier-fixed February 8, the minister added.
‘We hope that we will achieve the success of the vaccination programme as we did in tackling the COVID-19 crisis under the guidance of the prime minister,’ he said.
The minister later visited Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University where the vaccination is scheduled to begin tomorrow.
‘We are excited to see the preparations for the vaccination here. The observation room, emergency care management facility with medicines — everything is well-prepared,’ he said.
Earlier on the day, the Directorate General of Drug Administration announced its approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for use in the country.
Fifty lakh of the three crore vaccine doses purchased by the government arrived from India on Monday.
DGDA director general Mahbubur Rahman said, ‘We have tested the vaccine from every box and found them alright. So we are issuing the lot release certificate for the 50 lakh doses imported from the Serum by Beximco.’
‘With the approval, there will be no legal restriction from the DGDA — the apex drug regulatory body of the government — to use the vaccine,’ he added.
Bangladesh, which has so far tallied over 8,000 COVID-19 deaths and more than 5.30 lakh cases, on November 5, 2020 signed a deal with the Serum and its local vendor Beximco to procure three crore doses of the vaccine developed by Oxford University and British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and manufactured by the Serum.
Bangladesh on Thursday received 20 lakh doses of the vaccine from India as gift.
Mahbubur said that the drug regulatory agency would issue its approval for the 20 lakh doses once they were sent to them.
Some people are spreading rumours about the vaccine so that people reject it, said health minister Zahid Maleque while visiting the BSMMU.
‘Those who are spreading false rumours are enemy of the people,’ he further said.
‘The vaccine has been brought for saving the lives of the people. Any false information and rumour will only linger the COVID-19 crisis,’ he said.
About the demand from health experts for top public leaders to publicly take the shots to gain confidence among the mass people, Zahid said that they would take the vaccine as per the government plan that has prioritised frontline workers.
‘We’ll take the vaccine in time. We have no priority as VIP,’ he said.
According to a study carried out by Dhaka University’s Institute of Health Economics on the perception of the acceptance of COVID-19 vaccines in Bangladesh, only 32 per cent of respondents are interested to take a COVID-19 vaccine now, highlighting doubt about the vaccine’s effectiveness and quality as well as fear of side effects.
Overall, 84 per cent of people are willing to take the vaccine at some stage — after a few weeks, months or years — but many of them do not want to take the vaccine right now as they doubt its efficacy, fear its side effects while some even doubt the vaccine’s quality, found the study disseminated on Tuesday.
The study recommended that top leaders and iconic persons should take the vaccine publicly as this act would increase the acceptance of the vaccine.
The government vaccination plan has prioritised healthcare providers, freedom fighters, law enforcers, defence personnel, government employees, journalists and elected public representatives.
Clerics, migrant workers and bankers are also included in the first phase, but other highly vulnerable population segments, including many elderly people, factory workers and employees, day labourers, informal sector workers and self-employed people, have been left out of the priority list, according to the government announcement.
People would need to register their names for the vaccination through the website www.surokkha.gov.bd or the mobile app Surokkha.
About 7,344 vaccination teams, with each team comprising two vaccinators and four volunteers, will inoculate 1.70 crore selected people in three months — February, March and April.
The country’s health agency has planned to inoculate some 13 crore people in phases.
Expanded Programme of Immunisation director Shamsul Haque said that the vaccine recipients would have to sign a consent form before receiving the vaccine so that the healthcare providers and the government were not held liable for any event of illness or harm after the vaccination.
Health minister Zahid said on January 18 that the government would bear the treatment expenses if anyone developed any side effect after taking the COVID-19 vaccine.
‘Various countries are reporting adverse side effects of COVID-19 vaccines, including the Oxford-AstraZeneca one. We’ll arrange treatment for anyone having any side effect from the vaccine,’ he said in a meet-the-press event at Dhaka Reporters’ Unity in the capital on January 18.
Any drug or vaccine, the minister went on, certainly has some side effects and people should accept the risks of COVID-19 vaccine side effects and prepare for these.
Bangladesh expects a total of three crore vaccine doses from the Serum Institute of India by June this year.
Being a low-income country, Bangladesh with a population of over 160 million people will also receive 6.8 crore doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the global vaccine alliance GAVI under a World Health Organisation pool of vaccines named COVAX.
The COVAX vaccines are due in the country by June 2021.
Beximco Pharma has also secured a government approval for importing COVID-19 vaccines for private sale alongside the government’s mass vaccination programme.
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