It is reassuring to learn that Bangladesh will secure nearly 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from two sources by next year. The government will buy 68 million doses from Gavi under a global arrangement called COVAX and another 30 million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India via Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd. According to officials of the health directorate, the country expects to receive the first shipment of vaccine doses from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, between February and June 2021. However, the government is yet to decide which section of population will get priority in getting vaccinated first. Since it will take a really long time to get our entire population vaccinated, those who are most vulnerable to the virus must be vaccinated first.
According to health directorate sources, the government is developing a National Vaccine Deployment Plan to determine the priority population for the vaccines, which it is supposed to complete within a day or two. Priority is likely to be given to the healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses, health management and support workers, technicians who are directly involved in treatment and other related activities. As the government sources say, this will be done in line with the recommendations of World Health Organization and the foundational principles of the COVAX collaboration, a global effort to improve poorer countries' access to vaccines. The frontline professionals, such as members of law enforcement agencies, journalists, and people aged above 60 with comorbidity, are likely to receive the shots in the second phase. However, the population aged under 18 may not be vaccinated in the first and second phases.
So far, the progress made by the government in getting the vaccines and the plans for determining the priority population seem to be well-thought-out. Now, focus needs to be given to the issues of vaccine deployment—the cold chain, necessary equipment, transportation and human resources. The government needs to assess if our existing cold chain network under the EPI programme is capable of preserving and delivering such a huge volume of vaccines scientifically or whether there is any need for upgradation of the cold chain. The government must consider the fact that after procurement, vaccines need to be transported to the remote parts of the country and administered rapidly at the right temperature. Without an appropriate cold chain network, the efficacy of the vaccines might be compromised.
At the same time, the government needs to ensure stringent screening at airports and make sure that people wear masks even after vaccination. If a new strain of the novel coronavirus enters the country and spreads, vaccination may not be sufficient to tackle it, as feared by the health experts.