In light of the experience gained over the last one and a half years in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, public health experts have concluded that the only way to get rid of this lethal virus, for the time being, is to ensure vaccines for the global citizens. Public health experts and researchers have not yet reached a consensus on the need for a booster dose after six months. However, we should remain prepared for the booster dose because the antibody that develops after vaccination is expected to remain active for 4 to 6 months. As a result of reading the reading materials on the Covid-19 vaccine, I have got an explanation of this type. From the very beginning of the invention of vaccines by different companies, Bangladesh's government realised the significance of administering vaccines for its population, just as other countries worldwide did.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina directed the health ministry to arrange adequate vaccinations for the citizens during the latter part of 2020. Almost immediately, Beximco helped the government negotiate a deal with India's Serum Institute to acquire 30 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Along with 3.1 million doses of vaccines as a gift from the Indian government, the first and second consignments of the vaccine were delivered on schedule by Serum Institute. Therefore, the vaccination process started in February 2021 and went smoothly for a few months. However, Serum Institute was forced to discontinue supplying vaccines to Bangladesh when the Indian government banned the export of Covid-19 vaccines due to deteriorating the corona situation in their country. This was a genuine test of the diplomatic capacity of the government to reach agreements with other vaccine-producing companies worldwide.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working hard to organise Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines from different countries as several hundred thousand countrymen have not yet received the second dose of this vaccine. As part of the negotiation, Japan has committed to sending a significant quantity of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines under the COVAX programme. Some 245,200 doses of this vaccine have already been delivered to us from Japan. The government is holding talks with Russia to produce the Sputnik-V vaccine in Bangladesh, which might lead to an agreement. Our foreign minister has had discussions with his Indian counterpart, who has told us that the Indian government may reconsider its decision in August to export vaccinations to the neighbouring nations.
Therefore, due to the government's strenuous efforts, they could manage to obtain several hundred thousand Sinopharm and Moderna vaccines, which enabled them to begin vaccination. By the end of this year, the government intends to administer 70 million doses of vaccinations, implying that 35 million individuals will receive their two shots. We all know that the procedure of administering vaccines differs based on the nature of vaccines. For instance, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccines may be administered, preserving the vaccine at 2-4 degree temperature, while Moderna vaccine has to be administered, preserving at a temperature of minus 25-30 degrees.
Despite having a difference in administering procedures, the health department has quickly developed the infrastructure needed to commence the vaccination programme. Presently, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is being administered in Dhaka among expatriate workers on a priority basis since several countries have a special requirement of having Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for those who want to enter there. Therefore, the government has rightly prioritised their case as the expatriate workers are one of the sources of our foreign remittance.
Like the expatriate workers, the government has commenced the vaccination of university and medical students, realising its importance. Covid-19 has had a detrimental impact on the education sector. Despite different initiatives of the government, it is not easy to decide on the exact date of the reopening of educational institutions. Meanwhile, a section of guardians and students created pressure on the government to reopen the educational institutions.
However, our Prime Minister has rightly stated that she does not want to put students' lives at risk by reopening the educational institutions unless the Covid-19 situation improves significantly and the students' vaccinations are completed. There is no denying that the pandemic has created psychological stress on the students. However, there is hardly any scope to compromise with the safety of our children. Therefore, the guardians should keep motivating their children during the worst ever time of the century. The process of students' vaccination has already started. We expect to reopen all the educational institutions within the shortest possible time once the deteriorating situation improves.
Many people were hesitant to get the vaccine in the early days of the commencement of the vaccination programme. Even there was stigma among a group of people regarding the vaccine. Rumour mongers were busy spreading numerous tales to generate dread among the population about vaccinations, aside from hesitation and stigma. The main intention of these organisations was to cause problems for the government. As of now, the government has shrewdly managed every dirty game. Even the mindset of the countrymen has changed quite significantly towards vaccination.
The government has already decided to increase the vaccination campaign coverage at the rural level by setting up vaccination camps at the village level to reach a larger section of the population. To make this laudable initiative a success, the local government institutions and their representatives should play an essential part in the process. The public representatives may assist in the vaccination procedure and raise awareness among the countrymen living in rural areas. LG representatives and local volunteers might assist vaccination registration. The ratio of vaccination in urban and rural regions is significantly different. More people have received vaccines in the cities as compared to the rural areas. Therefore, the government should take initiatives to reduce the existing rural-urban gap in the vaccination process.
We should bear in mind that there is no alternative to receiving the vaccine to keep us safe from being infected by the deadly virus. It goes without saying that public health experts, physicians and researchers could not guarantee that people would not get infected after taking the vaccination. We have seen many people test positive for Covid-19 after taking vaccines. At the same time, several research reports have claimed that vaccine has reduced the fatality rate and the severity of infection to a great extent. Therefore, we all should cooperate with the government to successfully complete the vaccination process. Only then, we shall be able to fight against the lethal virus for some time. Moreover, we must come out from our stereotyping mindset of criticising the government for the sake of criticism only. We must appraise the government for its relentless efforts in arranging vaccines and the success of vaccine diplomacy in the hardest time of history.
The writer is a Professor of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi