Special drive to vaccinate 10 million people in a week
Elderly people aged 60 years or above make up around 7.5% of Bangladesh’s total population, but they account for around 80% of Covid fatalities due to comorbidities and weakened immune systems, health experts have said.
As the government is set to embark on a special drive to vaccinate 10 million people within a week, starting from August 7, they said a strategy should be there to immunize senior citizens, making it a top priority, to reduce the growing number of Covid deaths in Bangladesh.
The analysts also said community engagement and mobile vaccination teams were crucial to ensure vaccines for elderly people, especially in the rural areas, as they are less aware of the vaccines. Many of them are also too sick to go to the vaccination centres.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque on Sunday said 10 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines would be administered across the country on August 7-14.
Low infection high mortality
Dr Robed Amin, spokesperson for the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), told UNB that the percentage of people aged over 60 years infected with the coronavirus was relatively low, but the mortality rate in this group was very high as they suffer from various critical diseases.
He said senior citizens are mostly getting infected by young people, while 80% of them are dying from the virus infection. “As per our data, around 80% of Covid deaths in our country are among people in their 60s or older,” he said.
Prof AKM Nurun Nabi, founder chairman of Dhaka University’s department of population sciences, said there were about 12.5 million people aged 60 years in Bangladesh - constituting around 7.5% of the country’s population.
“Elderly people are usually vulnerable to any disease as they lose their resistance power and suffer from various chronic and critical diseases. So, the mortality rate of aged Covid-19 patients is very high all over the world."
Dr Robed Amin said the government would give priority to senior citizens in providing the vaccine doses during the upcoming mass vaccination drive.
He said there would be separate queues for male and female elderly people at every vaccination centre.
Dr Amin said elderly citizens would be able to receive the vaccines only by showing NID cards. “Those who have no NID cards will also be able to get the vaccine by showing other reliable documents like passports, birth certificates or other certificates issued by public representatives."
He said necessary directives had been issued at the field level so that seniors can smoothly receive the vaccine without any hassle.
“If we can successfully bring the senior citizens under vaccine coverage, the Covid fatality rate will decline subsequently,” Dr Amin said.
Public health expert MH Chowdhury Lenin, chairman of the medicine department at the Health and Hope Hospital, said all countries in the world were vaccinating senior citizens first, as they are the most vulnerable group during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“But it’s unfortunate that our elderly people were not given the top priority since the beginning of the mass vaccination program.”
He said there is a kind of disparity in distributing the vaccines due to the online registration process, depriving many older people of the scope to get vaccinated.
“We know elderly people have some sort of technophobia and reluctance about using technology. So, many elderly people could not register for the vaccine using the Surokkha app. Only some educated and urban senior citizens have so far received the vaccines.”
Dr Lenin appreciated the government’s move to relax the condition of registration for vaccines, saying it would have to be ensured that the seniors do not have to wait in queues for long as they have various physical problems.
Former World Health Organization (WHO) regional adviser Muzaherul Huq said elderly citizens are vulnerable to experiencing critical conditions after getting infected with coronavirus as many of them have health complications, including liver, lung, kidney, and heart problems, and diabetes. “The fatality rate among this group of people is very high in Bangladesh like other countries.”
As per the WHO guidelines, he said, elderly people should be given the second most priority after the frontliners or those who are involved in the medical system in providing the vaccines. “But our government did not follow it. Rather, it has lowered the vaccination age limit to 18 years. I think such an approach is not consistent with the WHO suggestions.”
Forming mobile teams
Lenin said the government should form a mobile team in every ward or union to vaccinate older people who are unable to come to vaccine centres.
“From our previous experiences, we can say many elderly people could not come to vaccine centres for many reasons. Many of them are bedridden or have no one to take them to the centres. So, the mobile teams can vaccinate at their homes,” he said.
The expert said many seniors would remain out of the vaccine coverage if the mobile teams were not formed. “So, a well-thought-out strategy is necessary to ensure vaccines for elderly people."
Completing vaccination by one year
Dr Lenin said Covid-19 would likely not be eliminated through vaccination as booster doses may be required every year to remain safe from the virus.
“So, the government should have a target for completing the vaccination drive by March next year. We will have 210 million doses of vaccines by January, and we will be able to vaccinate 80% of our population if we can collect 40 million more doses,” he said.
“So, the government needs to make efforts to get another 40 million jabs to complete the mass vaccination by March, and then it will be able to give people booster doses in due time.”