Due to vaccine and manpower shortage, Bangladesh has rowed back on its plan to inoculate 1 crore citizens in a six-day campaign slated for 7-14 August – an ambitious target to jumpstart its lacklustre mass Covid-19 inoculation programme.
Instead of the six-day campaign, there will now be just a daylong camp on 7 August with a new target of inoculating 32 lakh people, said the Health Directorate on Thursday as the country recorded its highest 264 deaths with the Delta variant on a rampage.
"Vaccine stock and manpower shortage are the main challenges. We neither have plenty of shots nor enough vaccinators to immunise in a weeklong camp," Prof Dr ABM Khurshid Alam, director-general of the Health Directorate, told The Business Standard Thursday.
He said they now had more than 1 crore doses of Moderna and Sinopharm vaccines. "But we cannot roll out the Moderna shots in rural areas due to the cold chain issue."
According to the previous six-day vaccination plan of the Health Directorate, Moderna shots were to be administered in urban areas and rural upazila and union-level inoculation centres would offer Sinopharm shots.
Besides, the health authorities said citizens at the centres would be able to get jabbed by showing their national identity cards, unlike the current online registration prior to the inoculation.
But the health authorities now say citizens should complete the pre-registration. However, the differently-abled and elderly citizens also get the on-spot registration facility this time too on 7 August. For the new target of jabbing 32 lakh people, three booths will be set up at each union-level camp to inoculate a total of 600 people. Elderly citizens, differently-abled and ailing individuals will be prioritised in the vaccination.
"Our vaccination plan is vibrant as the target of vaccine recipients can be changed anytime. We are also correcting the plan as per the outputs we are getting from the field level. We had to change it so that everything goes smoothly once the campaign begins," said Prof Dr Khurshid Alam.
Bangladesh rolled out its mass inoculation campaign in February this year. The country so far could fully immunise less than 3% of its total 16 crore population.
Apart from vaccine shortage, Prof Dr Khurshid Alam said vaccination in city corporations is challenging because "there is no urban health structure".
"Nurses administer vaccines in cities as health assistants administer the shots in rural areas. But we have to dispatch extra manpower for the city corporations. The hospitals have to spare medical personnel for the additional vaccine centres," he noted.
The health official said if huge vaccine consignments come at a time, they then would inoculate as many people as they can "if even it requires pausing other works".
He said Health Minister Zahid Maleque will hold a press conference Friday with details on vaccination.
'The plan had strategic shortfalls'
Public health experts said the six-day vaccination plan had strategic shortfalls that forced the government to retract the campaign at the last minute.
"The government failed to address the crisis in a mature way from the very beginning of the pandemic," Prof Muzaherul Huq, a former adviser to the World Health Organization (WHO) South-East Asia region, told the Business Standard Thursday.
Prof Muzaherul said mass inoculation is a herculean task that demands enough preparations and a proper immunisation blueprint.
"If we inoculate 1 crore people in a week, we must have another 1 crore shots in stock for the second dose next month. But we do not have that," he added, and laid focus on vaccine stocks.
Districts reorganise immunisation plan
Satkhira Civil Surgeon Dr Hussain Shafayet said the Health Directorate informed him about curtailing the mass vaccination programme on Thursday morning by a mobile SMS.
According to the new plan, he said 78 unions of the district would inoculate 600 people each on 7 August.
Dr Hussain Shafayet said his district has already received 51,200 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine and more are in the pipeline.
"We do not have any manpower crisis, the crisis is over vaccine availability," he noted.
On vaccine shortage, the mass inoculation campaign in Brahmanbaria has also been shortened. The inoculation target has been readjusted to 61,000 from the previous 1.75 lakh.
Dr Mohammad Ekram Ullah, the civil surgeon of the district, said they have completed the preparations.
Noakhali Civil Surgeon Dr Masum Iftekhar said they have the centres and medical personnel ready for the camp. "There is no crisis. We are ready for the vaccination," he added.
1.04 crore shots to arrive in one month: Momen
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told journalists Thursday that Bangladesh would receive 1.04 crore doses of Sinopharm, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines in the next month.
"Within August, we will get 34 lakh doses of Sinopharm and 10 lakh doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine under the Covax facility. And, 60 lakh shots of Pfizer vaccine will arrive in Dhaka within the first week of September," he noted.
To a query from the press, Momen said an MoU for joint vaccine manufacturing with China "would take place anytime".