With Bangladesh securing nearly 100 million doses of Covid vaccine from two sources by next year, the most pertinent question now is who will be vaccinated first.
No decision has been made yet but frontline healthcare workers are the ones likely to be vaccinated first as the country expects to receive the first shipment of vaccine doses from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, between February and June 2021, said officials of the health directorate.
Bangladesh will buy 68 million doses from Gavi under a global arrangement called COVAX facility and another 30 million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from Serum Institute of India via Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd.
The officials said the government is developing National Vaccine Deployment Plan determining the priority population for the vaccines.
Priority is likely to be given to the healthcare workers including doctors, nurses, health management and support workers, and technicians directly involved in treatment and other Covid-related activities, they mentioned.
This goes in line with the recommendations by the World Health Organisation and also the foundational principles of the COVAX collaboration, a global effort to improve poorer countries' access to vaccines.
The officials said that in the second phase, frontline professionals such as members of law enforcement agencies and journalists, and people aged above 60 with comorbidity are likely to receive the shots.
People aged under 18 may not be vaccinated in the first and second phases, hinted the officials.
The core committee on vaccine preparedness and deployment will submit the final draft of the plan on Covid vaccination to the health ministry in a day or two, Dr Shamsul Haque, director of Expanded Programme for Immunisation of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), told The Daily Star.
VACCINES FROM GAVI, SERUM
Bangladesh will get 68 million doses of vaccine for at least 20 percent of its population (34 million) by next year from Gavi under COVAX facility, DGHS officials said at a press conference in the capital yesterday.
Each person will need two doses. The cost of each shot has been estimated at $1.62 to $2, they said.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, is an international organisation created in 2000 to improve access to new and underused vaccines for children living in the world's poorest countries.
The vaccine doses from Gavi are in addition to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses that Bangladesh will procure from India's Serum Institute via Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd.
The health ministry on November 5 signed a tripartite contract with Serum and Beximco to import 30 million doses of the vaccine.
The officials said Bangladesh has to pay for the Gavi-COVAX vaccine under co-financing arrangement. And the health directorate will submit the National Vaccine Deployment Plan to Gavi as per the conditions.
At yesterday's press conference, Shamsul Haque said they are working to submit the final plan to Gavi on December 7 when the global vaccine alliance will start taking such plans from different countries.
Earlier, Bangladesh had sent an official Expression of Interest (EOI) to Gavi on July 9. Gavi sent a letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on September 18, announcing the country's eligibility for getting the Covid vaccine, he said.
DGHS officials said the first shipment of the vaccine doses is likely to arrive in the country between February and June 2021.
WHAT EXPERTS SAY
Experts have lauded the government for ramping up its efforts to get Covid vaccines, but stressed the need for a prudent vaccine policy.
They urged the government to stay in touch with all other countries and organisations that are conducting the phase-III trial of vaccine development.
Prof Nazrul Islam, member of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid, said the government has made good progress in getting vaccines. However, there are lots of issues in vaccine deployment -- cold chain, necessary equipment, transportation and human resources.
"Government officials are saying they are prepared for vaccine deployment. We hope it is not a mere statement," he told this newspaper.
The noted virologist pointed to the previous "failures" in maintaining proper screening at airports and said, "If a new strain of the novel coronavirus enters the country and spreads, vaccination may not be sufficient to tackle it.
"We have to ensure stringent screening at airports. Also, it has to be made sure that people wear masks even after vaccination."
Prof Sayedur Rahman, chairman of pharmacology department at the BSMMU, appreciated the government initiatives to procure vaccines.
He, however, said concern remains as to "when the vaccines would reach the country and whether those could be administered to the people timely and properly."
The government may not procure the vaccine developed by Pfizer as it requires cold chain temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius. Bangladesh does not have that cold chain capacity, said DGHS officials.
At yesterday's briefing, Shamsul Haque said the government has been in talks with Russia for Sputnik-V vaccine.
He further said two Bangladeshi institutes have expressed willingness to host the 3rd Phase Clinical trial of Sanofi and GSK's protein-based vaccines.
About the Oxford vaccine, he said Bangladesh will receive three crore doses -- 50 lakh doses a month -- in phases by next year. Under the initiative, around 1.5 crore people will be vaccinated and each person will need two doses.
Prof Dr Abul Bashar Mohammad Khurshid Alam, director general (Health) of the DGHS, was also present at the briefing.