So it begins finally. If everything goes as planned, the prime minister will today inaugurate a pilot run for the rollout of Covishield—the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine purchased from the Serum Institute of India—setting the stage for the nationwide vaccination campaign scheduled to begin on February 7. Five public hospitals in Dhaka have been selected to initially administer the vaccine among selected volunteers. A visit by The Daily Star to three of these hospitals has revealed various levels of preparations, and the authorities are confident they can pull it off without any hindrance. Despite the logistical challenges likely to be encountered in mass-level delivery and administration over the coming weeks, this moment is one of joy and celebration. After nearly a year of suffering, the vaccine is finally here and ready for rollout, for which the government deserves kudos, especially given how quickly it has been able to secure delivery of the vaccine doses.
So far, the government has secured 70 lakh Covishield doses, after the arrival of 20 lakh doses as a gift from India and subsequently, 50 lakh government-purchased ones. More will follow in the coming months. However, as the experiences of countries that have already launched mass inoculation programmes show, it is one thing to receive vaccine doses, and another to deliver and administer them successfully. We know how even developed countries have been struggling to reach the vaccine to segments of populations most in need of it. A successful campaign requires strong governance and a well-thought-out vaccination policy armed with proper delivery, storage, identification and administration mechanisms. Bangladesh will struggle on all these fronts, if its past record of Covid-19 response is any indication, but even if it somehow manages to accomplish these tasks, it may not be enough to curb or slow the transmission of the virus with its limited supply of vaccines. According to health experts, any immunisation programme may not work unless a minimum of 70 percent of the population has acquired immunity, which is a tall order for a country of over 160 million.
So the coming of the vaccine, something we looked forward to for so long, should not distract us from the formidable challenges that lie ahead. We have often commented on the inadequacy of the government's Covid-19 response, but with vaccines finally in our midst and the virus still showing no signs of letting up, the government must do better. The way we see it, three of the most important challenges now are to purchase enough vaccines for the whole population, properly identify at-risk groups, and administer the vaccines successfully while ensuring that the follow-up dose will be available at the right time. Nothing less than a concerted effort guided by a clear vision will be enough.