The coronavirus vaccine is being rolled out across the country today amid lukewarm interest from the people in getting the shots.
The vaccine doses arrived in the country on time, the vials were sent across the country as planned before, and the vaccinators and volunteers have been trained.
The two-day piloting was done with success on January 28: Not one of the 567 volunteers who took the first shot of the two-dose Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has complained of any major side effect.
But the response from people eligible for imoculation in the first phase has been underwhelming.
The government's plan is to inoculate everyone aged over 55 and those of certain professions.
As of yesterday afternoon, a little less than 3.5 lakh people registered online for the vaccine. But the government's plan at the beginning was to inoculate 60 lakh people in the first month of the campaign. The authorities then lowered their expectations and set the target at 35 lakh people.
Healthcare officials and experts said absence of a mass awareness campaign, difficulties in online registration, misinformation, and scepticism about the vaccines' effectiveness were the key reasons behind people's indifference.
The health minister along with some top officials are likely to get the jabs at the Sheikh Rasel Gastroliver Institute and Hospital in the capital today, as they hope to dispel any fear that people might have of the vaccine.
Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan will get inoculated at the Shuhrawardy Medical College Hospital while State Minister for Public Administration Farhad Hossain, State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Dr Enamur Rahman, and Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam at the Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery.
People will be inoculated at every district and upazila from today, according to health officials.
There are 50 vaccination centres in Dhaka and 955 elsewhere.
On weekdays inoculation will take place from 8:00am-4:00pm.
A total of 204 teams of vaccinators will work in the capital and 2,196 outside.
However, health department officials at a press conference could not say when an android app for vaccine registration might be available on Google's Play Store.
Asked why some people did not receive a confirmation text after registering online, Mizanur Rahman, director of the Management Information System (MIS) of the health directorate, said, "People who registered should have received the sms."
People needing assistance for registering can go to the vaccination centres for support, he said.
"After registering at the centres, they will be asked to visit the centres the next day to get the shot," he said. "Vaccine recipients will be notified via mobile phone sms for the second dose, and we have to keep a record."
The government has some 70 lakh 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.
The Directorate General of Health Services said the government has the capability to inoculate 3.60 lakh people a day.
Prof Sayedur Rahman, chair at the pharmacology department at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), said the people's response was dismaying, especially since the government has enough doses in stock.
"If we fail to vaccinate a certain percentage of people, the vaccine will be of little benefit. Vaccination must scale up across the country, especially in the big cities," he said.
WHO SHOULD NOT TAKE VACCINES
At the press conference, Prof Meerjady Sabrina Flora said, "Pregnant and lactating mothers, those who had a high fever in four weeks, and people allergic to any drug should not take the vaccine."
Anyone infected with Covid-19 can take the vaccine 28 days after recovery. Those who took plasma therapy for Covid-19 must wait 90 days before taking a shot.
"These are information based on the available scientific data. These might change in future," she said.
Bangladesh purchased three crore doses of the Oxford vaccine called Covishied from Serum Institute of India. The first shipment of 50 lakh doses arrived here on January 25. Besides, the country received 20 lakh shots of the Covishield as a gift from the Indian government.
Bangladesh has the highest number of vaccine doses after India in South Asia.
The COVAX initiative for equitable global access to Covid-19 vaccines on Wednesday announced that Bangladesh would receive 12.79 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine by June this year.
Nazmul Hassan Papon, managing director of Beximco Pharmaceuticals Limited, said the second shipment of the purchased Covishiled from Serum was expected to arrive between February 21 to February 25, subject to government decisions. Beximco is Serum's local agent.
"We are ready to import. Whenever the government asks us to bring the vaccine, we will import," he said.
The country's Expanded Programme on Immunization has over the years vaccinated children, but this time, the shots are for the adults.
The country has so far recorded 537,770 Covid-19 cases while the death toll reached 8,190 yesterday.