UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and the humanitarian community are waiting for the arrival of vaccine doses under the COVAX facility to begin the vaccination of Rohingyas in Bangladesh as it was originally scheduled to begin by the end of March.
The government of Bangladesh, however, wants to ensure vaccination of both the Rohingyas and host community together depending on the availability of vaccine doses as it does not want to see any discrimination against anybody, officials said.
Bangladesh, meanwhile, saw a significant rise in the number of Covid-19 positive cases in Rohingya camps in April and May last.
Twenty people died of Covid infections in the camps, while 1,566 Covid-19 cases were confirmed as of 20 June, according to the UNHCR.
More worrying, the UN refugee agency says, some 600 of these cases were recorded in May alone which is already over 50% of the number for the entire period of March 2020 –March 2021.
"In Bangladesh, UNHCR and the humanitarian community continue to advocate that the vaccination of Rohingya refugees begin as soon as COVAX vaccines arrive," Louise Donovan, the UNHCR spokesperson in Cox's Bazar, told UNB.
She said the previous date had to be postponed as the arrival of the COVAX vaccines remains pending and no new date has been set yet.
Asked about the vaccine shortage in the country, Louise said an amount of over 10 million vaccines from COVAX has been allocated to Bangladesh which should be used to equitably vaccinate Bangladeshi nationals as well as the Rohingyas and other vulnerable groups in Bangladesh.
The UNHCR spokesperson said the humanitarian community is extremely grateful to the government of Bangladesh for the inclusion of the Rohingyas living in Bangladesh in both the National Response Plan to Covid-19 as well as the national vaccination plan.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said they want vaccination for both the Rohingyas and affected local communities if Bangladesh gets a special allocation.
"The local communities who are affected in many ways for Rohingyas will not accept it if vaccination is provided only for the Rohingyas," he said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been saying from day one that vaccine should be a public good and there should be no discrimination.
Dr Momen said it will not be fair if anyone suggests vaccinating Rohingyas alone depriving the host communities. "We don't discriminate."
Bangladesh is hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar district and Bhasan Char Island.
With the government of Bangladesh, the UNHCR said, humanitarian actors are advocating urgently for a rapid delivery of the initial COVAX vaccine allocation of 2 million doses to Bangladesh.
"With global shortages, the UNHCR is seeking additional support from those countries with surplus doses of the vaccines to replenish the COVAX facility," said the UNHCR spokesperson.
COVAX prioritizes the most vulnerable countries, including Bangladesh and the Rohingya refugee population.
"Rohingya refugees are so far the only group in Bangladesh society which is yet to benefit from the vaccination. As the pandemic has clearly highlighted, no one is safe until everyone is safe," said the UNHCR spokesperson.
Meanwhile, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has said it is working closely with the government and the humanitarian community to ramp up the delivery of a wide range of support services for Rohingyas and host communities in Cox's Bazar district.
"It's imperative to strengthen our assistance and not let the situation deteriorate further before it becomes impossible for the existing healthcare services to cope with," said Manuel Marques Pereira, IOM's Deputy Chief of Mission in Bangladesh.
Following an upsurge in Covid-19 cases in May, local authorities imposed a strict lockdown in five Rohingya refugee camps in Teknaf and Ukhiya upazilas in Cox's Bazar.