The global Covid-19 vaccination campaign has started. By mid-March, 391 million vaccine shots have been given worldwide.
The second dose of the Covide-19 vaccine in Bangladesh will start from 8th April as per World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, the health minister said. So far, around 51.40 lakh people have been vaccinated (first dose) across the country. The minister said priority will also now be given to teachers, airmen and those involved in ports as they have been left out of the priority list (frontline workers).The supply of 7.5 billion doses of the vaccine worldwide is a challenge. The World Health Organization estimates that up to 47% of vaccines are somehow damaged or exposed during the "last mile" period of distribution. The Covide-19 vaccine requires a cold chain to keep travel safe and effective around the world and across the country. Arranging a national temperature-controlled supply chain is not an easy task. It may include many different steps including packaging, distribution, holdings, bulk storage and local storage. This has to be taken seriously and continue to work with various partners and donors on the entire cold chain and logistic system for Covid-19 vaccination, future pandemics and without impacting the current EPI programme mechanism in Bangladesh.
Tracking and monitoring of people who have been vaccinated throughout the process is vital as it ensures the safety and effectiveness of vaccine. This information can increase confidence in the government and the public. This is particularly important because this vaccine needs two doses to work, and we need people to come back to get the second one, and discuss any potential adverse effects.
We have to think about our role in the vaccine process - such as vaccine-related confusion (rumours), speeding up the vaccine process and take us on the other side of the epic. We may have questions about whether there is any adverse reaction of Covid-19 vaccines. The good news is that cases of serious side effects are extremely rare: about 11 for every one million (10 lakh) patients.
Extensive vaccination campaign requires a lot of coordination. And of course, there will also be a lot of communication needed. There is a kind of fear around this vaccine in the general public, and the public is sceptical about whether it is safe and effective. If people refuse to take vaccine, the effort will be in vain. We really need to have a good public information program to let people know what Covid-19 really is.
As viruses are spreading and new variants are circulating worldwide - scientists are analyzing the potential consequences of variants: (a) ability to spread more quickly in people, (b) ability to cause either milder or more severe disease in people, (c) Ability to evade detection by specific viral diagnostic tests, (d) ability to evade natural or vaccine-induced immunity. It raises a question of whether virus can be fought by the existing range of vaccine. Do we need a booster vaccine?
Bangladesh might need to widen the coronavirus vaccination campaign soon to include other sections of the society i.e. younger people, as new infections rose in last few weeks where younger age group is in the list. All above the age of 40 are eligible for vaccination in Bangladesh currently. But we need to carefully analyze the infection trend recently.People with co-morbidity have to be given priority like in the first phase. Studies have shown that more than 70% of deaths from Covide-19 are caused by pre-existing non-infectious diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. The Covide-19 case that gives priority to those with pre-existing non-infectious diseases will keep the death rate as low as possible.
Finally, to ramp up the vaccination drive further including increase the vaccination sites manifold, we need to go for public-private partnership modality and to bring competent and gold standard private health services/ hospitals/ clinics to engage manage and administering Covid-19 vaccines. The government has drafted a policy on the participation of the private sector in Covid-19 vaccination in the country. As the authority indicated earlier that everything in the process of vaccination to pricing will be included in the policy. It is time to expedite the process.
People should remember that if even they are immunized, mask use, hand washing, social distancing and laboratory tests will always be important for reducing this spread. A year after tackling the challenge of Covid-19, the rollout of vaccines has brought hope to individuals, communities and society. It is not important to get the fastest vaccination against coronavirus or who takes the most doses; effective and safe vaccine is the top priority. We hope that vaccination along with other health measures will help us get back to a life (neo normal) where it is safe to work, travel and meet each other. The vaccination programme can help us to restore humanity quickly.
The writer is a former UN official