THE COVID-19 vaccination campaign, which has so far proceeded without any major problem in vaccination management and with a few problems in the campaign management that still needs to be improved, provides almost no insight into its efficacy in the absence of antibody tests. The campaign which began on February 7 could so far inoculate more than 60 per cent, or 3.6 million, of the six million people against COVID-19 targeted for the first of the two doses in the first month. The inoculation plan now covers people aged 40 years and above and frontline workers aged above 18 years. With the inoculation still falling short of the target by about 40 per cent, the government plans to meet it before it rolls out the second-dose inoculation on April 7. What remains missing in all this is the antibody test which can show if the vaccines against COVID-19 work. Although there are debates the world over on whether antibody tests, especially in individual cases, are at all any indicators of immunity against COVID-19, antibody tests are believed to have many uses for decision making in public health, especially vaccine selection, medical screening and prioritisation.
Bangladesh has so far received nine million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India. Bangladesh in all is buying 30 million doses. It has also received two million doses in gift from India. It is also expected to get 10.9 million doses of the vaccine from the COVAX initiative of the global vaccine alliance of GAVI and the World Health Organisation to ensure access of poor countries to COVID-19 vaccines. Without antibody tests, which can support serosurveillance studies to establish the case fatality rate and keep track of increase and decrease in incidence and prevalence of COVID-19 at the population level, it could be difficult for the government to work out an effective vaccination scheme. Experts, therefore, say that the current vaccination plan, without an assessment of antibody against COVID-19, is a blind scheme. Experts say that antibody test is necessary to know whether the vaccine works on people here. But, unfortunately, the government could not start running antibody tests even a month after the vaccination had begun. The Directorate General of Health Services says that a protocol for antibody test has been worked out which has been pending approval and fund allocation. Once the protocol is approved and the fund allocated, the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research will run the antibody test. But it is still uncertain when the authorities would start conducting the antibody test.
Health experts think that the government should not give any excuse for not conducting antibody test on people vaccinated. They say that antibody tests on a certain number of people are essential after 21 days of vaccination. The government must, therefore, start running antibody test on a certain number of people in the eight divisions without further delay to work out a better COVID-19 vaccination scheme in the coming days.
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