The government has allowed people aged 40 and above to register for inoculation against Covid-19 as only a fraction of the people eligible for the shots are responding to the campaign.
The original plan was to inoculate in the first phase people aged 55 and above along with those belonging to certain groups of professionals. After the new announcement, many aged just over 40 reported that they successfully registered for vaccination.
But some experts said the bar should be further lowered if the authorities wanted to make sure there were no risks of the purchased doses expiring before they could be utilised.
"We have to increase the numbers of registrations and inoculations. Otherwise, it will be a disaster," said a top official of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), wishing not to be named.
With 44,509 receiving the first shot of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine yesterday, the number of people vaccinated against Covid-19 reached 75,669 in the first two days of the campaign.
The numbers are quite underwhelming as the government had taken preparations to inoculate 3.60 lakh people a day.
In the last two days, a measly 2 percent of the first month's target of 35 lakh people had been reached. This target was also lowered from the original one of 60 lakh.
Over the last 11 days, around 5.12 lakh people have registered on www.surokkha.gov.bd.
The government's plan was to begin administering the second dose after two months, but this plan was also changed to one month.
"Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the cabinet meeting directed officials to include all people aged 40 years and above," Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam told reporters after the weekly cabinet meeting.
The directive was put in effect without delay.
The cabinet secretary also said people from other age groups along with the family members of frontline workers would eventually be eligible for registration.
The prime minister also ordered keeping registration arrangements at the vaccination centres for those who might not be able to register in advance, he said.
In that case, the vaccine recipient has to bring their National Identity Card to the vaccination centre, he added.
ABM Khurshid Alam, director general of the DGHS, said, "Poor response from people and the complexities of online registration are the reasons why the plans had to be revised. We received a number of complaints from across the country about people failing to register online."
Some technical issues have already been addressed and registration for non-government doctors and nurses is now available, he told The Daily Star.
"Despite these, we still don't get the expected response. We might open the option for teachers soon."
The government has a stock of 70 lakh vaccine doses from three different batches. Shots from two of the batches will expire in April and the rest in June this year. Officials didn't say the exact expiry dates. Nor did they say the number vials that will expire in April.
The DG yesterday said the shelf life of the Covid-19 vaccine was six months.
A top official of the DGHS said they sent the doses to the districts and instructed officials to use the doses that would expire first.
Prof Md Sayedur Rahman, chairman of pharmacology at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said the minimum age requirement should be further lowered if people's response remained unchanged.
Bangladesh purchased three crore doses of the Oxford vaccine from Serum Institute of India at $5 per dose.
Asked, Prof Nasima Sultana, additional director general of the DGHS, said, "In the first two days, vaccine recipient turnout was low. We directed all of our officials to increase the numbers as much as they can.
"We only just started yesterday [Sunday]. In the course of time, it will gain momentum."
Meanwhile, different eminent personalities have taken the shot. Among them were Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda and Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain.