The Covid vaccination kick-started across the country yesterday amid much fanfare with ministers, freedom fighters, bureaucrats and eminent citizens joining the inoculation campaign.
Bangladesh with a population of over 170 million is the seventh most populous country in the world to join the global inoculation campaign against the highly contagious virus that has claimed 2.32 million lives across the globe. The other six countries are China, India, the US, Indonesia, Pakistan and Brazil.
According to the World Health Organisation, 130 countries are yet to join the vaccination programme.
Though there was lukewarm response to online registration for vaccination, the launch of mass inoculation has been hailed as an icebreaker by those who took their first shot on the opening day.
Mass inoculation started at the 1,005 vaccination points in all 64 districts where 31,160 people got vaccinated.
"It is the safest vaccine. I urge people not to spread any rumours about vaccine and to get registered for vaccination… Vaccine for victory," Health Minister Zahid Maleque told journalists after taking his first jab yesterday.
He took the vaccine shot at Sheikh Russell National Gastro Liver Institute and Hospital after launching the countrywide inoculation virtually at the Mohakhali Health Centre at 10:00am.
The minister also instructed the officials to take initiative for spot registration so that people get easy access to vaccine.
People were sceptical about the safety and efficacy of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine initially but participation of eminent figures will encourage the common people to get registered for vaccination, said a number of the vaccine recipients.
They also urged people not to pay heed to any rumours, saying the Oxford vaccine is considered safe.
The mass vaccination started after pilot vaccination at five hospitals in Dhaka on January 27-28. A total of 567 people were vaccinated.
Yesterday, Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, Education Minister Dipu Moni, Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzaque, Fisheries and Livestock Minister SM Rezaul Karim, Science and Technology Minister Yeafesh Osman and State Minister for Public Administration Farhad Hossain were vaccinated at different centres in the capital.
"My wife and I took vaccine. We have not had any problems till now. I urge the people of the country to get registered for vaccination soon," the chief justice told journalists after receiving his first jab of the two-dose vaccine.
Yeafesh Osman recited a few lines of a poem he wrote to encourage people to get vaccinated.
"You [journalists] know I recite poem in the cabinet. Bangabandhu's daughter [Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina] asked me whether I have written any poem...," the minister said.
Gonoshasthya Kendra Founder Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury urged all to take vaccine without fear.
"I am fine. There is no reason to panic. I call upon people to get vaccinated whenever their turn comes. It is your duty to receive vaccine," said the freedom fighter.
Zafrullah also urged the prime minister to take vaccine soon to encourage people to follow suit.
"Had the prime minister taken vaccine today, the people of the country would have been more confident about the vaccination campaign," he observed.
BNP leaders and activists should also get vaccinated, he said.
Zafrullah, however, pointed out that BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia should receive it after taking doctors' advice since she has many health complications and arthritic problems.
The mass inoculation programme started at 8:00am and continued till 4:00pm yesterday. Since morning, people started forming queues at the designated centres across the country for vaccination.
They got vaccinated one by one, showing printed documents of online registration for vaccination.
Each of the vaccine recipients was kept under observation for 30 minutes. The recipients expressed their satisfaction after taking shots.
None of the recipients complained of any adverse effect on the first day of vaccination. However, 21 of them complained of minor side effects.
"The mass inoculation programme started across the country in a festive mood… Till now, we have not received any report of adverse effect," Prof Nasima Sultana, additional director general at the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), told The Daily Star.
Health officials said the vaccination programme will continue round the year and all the people, except for those below 18 and pregnant women, will be gradually vaccinated.
According to officials at the Department of Information and Communication Technology, a total of 4.10 lakh people got registered online for vaccination till yesterday afternoon.
The government's initial plan was to inoculate 60 lakh people in the first month of the campaign. The target was later lowered to 35 lakh.
The government has already secured around 70 lakh doses of three different batches. Shots of two batches will expire in April and those of the other in June this year. Officials didn't say the exact expiry dates.
Bangladesh purchased three crore doses of the Oxford vaccine called Covishield from Serum Institute of India. The first shipment of 50 lakh doses arrived on January 25. Besides, the country received 20 lakh shots of Covishield as a gift from the Indian government.
In South Asia, Bangladesh has got the highest number of vaccine doses after India.
On Wednesday, the COVAX initiative for equitable global access to Covid vaccines announced that Bangladesh would get 12.79 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine by June this year.
The country has so far recorded 538,062 Covid cases. The death toll hit 8,205 yesterday.