Govt taking jabs to people’s doorstep
The government has decided to set up more vaccination centres across the country to speed up the inoculation drive especially in remote areas amid a surge in Covid deaths and infections.
The healthcare system has been overwhelmed over the past few weeks with hospitals seeing a sharp rise in Covid patients. Yesterday, the country logged 247 deaths from the virus and 15,192 new cases -- the highest in a day.
"The prime minister has given directives to strengthen the vaccination campaign. She also asked for starting vaccination campaign at the ward level and inoculating elderly people," Health Minister Zahid Maleque told journalists after a cabinet meeting yesterday.
With the uncertainty about securing Covid vaccines gone, the biggest challenge for the government now is to vaccinate people, especially those in rural areas.
"Apart from the existing vaccination points, we have decided to set up around 14,000 points in the same number of wards in different unions all over the country," he said.
Currently, the vaccination programme is being run through 1,005 vaccination points across the country, and 150 doses can be administered at each point a day.
The minister said people would not need to go to the centres at the upazila level to get vaccinated, rather vaccines would be taken to their doorsteps.
Noting that vaccine is a key tool for saving lives and curbing infections, Zahid said if the government fails to vaccinate elderly people, it would not be possible to bring down the death rate.
Vaccines will be administered at union health complexes and also makeshift vaccination points at the ward level.
"We have estimated that we can administer over one crore doses a month. But everything depends on availability of vaccines."
The minister said they are considering allowing some private hospitals to administer Covid vaccines as those have the required facilities.
He further said the government expects to get 21 crore doses of Covid vaccines within a year and a half.
"We have the capacity to store eight crore shots at a time. Storing vaccines is not a big concern for us."
He said the government is bringing freezerscapable of storing at a time one crore jabs like that of Pfizer which need to be kept at ultra-low temperature.
Asked about the manpower needed for a broader inoculation campaign, an official of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said, "Nursing students may be engaged in administering vaccines along with the existing health workers."
Healthcare professionals, including nurses, are now administering vaccine doses.
"Administering a vaccine shot is not a difficult task. Nursing students from the second academic year onwards can be engaged in administering jabs," the official said, seeking anonymity.
Yesterday, more than two lakh people across the country got their first shot of Covid vaccine and 3,500 the second one.
The government has so far received 2.12 crore vaccine doses from different sources, including 33 lakh jabs as gift from India and 11 lakh shots from China.
As of July 25, a total of 1.18 crore people were inoculated -- 43 lakh of them got both the first and second shots.
Officials of the Extended Programme on Immunization (EPI) said they can go for a massive vaccination campaign once they secure a good stock of Covid vaccines.
"Once we start such a campaign, we cannot halt halfway. Administering vaccines on a massive scale will not be a big issue," said a top EPI official.
Talking to journalists, the health minister said the government will get around 21 crore vaccine shots from different sources.
"Even if we administer one crore jabs a month, it will take 21 months… Our target is to do it faster."
Asked about the sources, Zahid said, "We will get three crore doses from AstraZeneca and another three crore from Sinopharm.
"We have signed a contract with Russia for one crore doses of Sputnik V. We will also get 6.8 crore shots from the Covax facility. We have also struck a deal with Johnson and Johnson for seven crore jabs that we will get in the second quarter of next year."
AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccines will be administered at ward, union, upazila and district levels while Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will be given in the city corporation areas across the country, the minister mentioned.
Zahid further said Bangladesh is likely to get around 30 lakh Sinopharm jabs from China by the end of this month.
Besides, 60 lakh Pfizer vaccine shots may arrive next month under the Covax facility, a global vaccine alliance, but the schedule is yet to be confirmed.
When the inoculation drive began on February 7, health officials said they had the capacity of administering 3.60 lakh jabs a day but could never reach that number.
The drive revolved mainly around AstraZeneca vaccine supplied by Serum Institute of India. It came to a grinding halt after New Delhi suspended vaccine export in the last week of April amid a massive surge in Covid infections in that country.
Bangladesh suspended administering the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine on April 26. The inoculation of the first shot resumed on a limited scale this month with the arrival of Sinopharm and Pfizer vaccines.
But the administering of the second AstraZeneca dose among around 15 lakh people hangs in the balance due to suspension of supply from Serum, the largest vaccine producer in the world.
However, the uncertainty has partially been removed with the arrival of 2.45 lakh AstraZeneca vaccine doses from Japan under the Covax facility.
Bangladesh is supposed to get 6.8 crore vaccine doses this year from Covax. Those could cover around 20 percent of the population. But the country has so far received 1.06 lakh Pfizer shots and 55 lakh Moderna jabs from the vaccine alliance.