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Dhaka Tribune

How concerned is Bangladesh about AstraZeneca vaccine?

Since no harmful symptoms have been reported in the country so far, the AstraZeneca vaccination program will continue in Bangladesh, the health minister said on May 8

Update : 11 May 2024, 02:00 PM

A month after announcing the withdrawal of its vaccines from the market, the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca began implementing the mammoth task on May 7. The announcement came at a time when more than 3 billion doses of the vaccine had been administered worldwide, including Bangladesh, since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

This news has raised concerns in Bangladesh as well as the whole world. Health experts say that, in fact, it is not possible to say anything before the results of the survey or research about whether there are any effects on those who receive the vaccine or how much they have grown.

Health and Family Welfare Minister Dr Samanta Lal Sen has instructed the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) to find out whether the vaccine recipients in Bangladesh have experienced any side effects.

Since no harmful symptoms have been reported in the country so far, the AstraZeneca vaccination program will continue in Bangladesh, the health minister said on May 8. 

AstraZeneca says it is taking the step to withdraw the vaccine due to a surplus and reduced demand for the new version of the Covid-19 vaccine. It has nothing to do with side effects. However, earlier, it also admitted in a British court that the Vaxzevria vaccine that it developed jointly with Oxford University may cause side effects such as blood clots and low blood pressure.

Meanwhile, in the lawsuit filed against AstraZeneca’s Covishield vaccine, the plaintiff claims that multiple deaths and serious illnesses have come to light with this vaccine dose.

Oxford and AstraZeneca produced the same vaccine in two places to prevent Covid-19. The vaccine developed at the Serum Institute of India (SII) is named Covishield, and the vaccine for Europe is named Vaxzevria. The Covishield vaccine has gone to many countries of the world, including Bangladesh. At least 175 million doses of this vaccine have been administered in India alone.

According to Indian media, AstraZeneca admitted to the court in February that there is a risk of thrombosis or thrombocytopenia syndrome in rare cases due to the use of this vaccine. Karuniya, a young woman from India, died of side effects of the Covishield vaccine, her father Venugopal Govind has alleged. He told the Economic Times that the SII, the Indian government and regulatory agencies were all responsible for many other deaths, including his daughter's.

So far, 81 people have died in Britain due to thrombocytopenia syndrome, according to media reports. In the meantime, the news of withdrawal of vaccination has created panic.

In 2020, when the whole world was struggling to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, AstraZeneca announced that it was bringing a vaccine to the market. The vaccine was approved for use in the UK immunization program on December 30, 2020, and the vaccination program began in January 2021. 

As many as 26 people were experimentally given the Covishield vaccine in Bangladesh on January 27 of the same year. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the vaccination program against coronavirus by giving one dose of vaccine to senior staff nurse Runu Veronica Costa of Kurmitola General Hospital. After vaccination, these people were kept under observation. Then the mass vaccination program started on February 8.

For the vaccination programme, 7 million doses of Covishield vaccine were initially stockpiled. Of this, 2 million doses came as a goodwill gift from India. The remaining 5 million doses were purchased from the Serum Institute.

According to the DGHS, 56.28 million doses of Covishield have been administered in the country till May 8 this year. 

Among them, 27.69 million took the first dose of Covishield, 19.50 million took the second dose, 16.04 million took the third dose and 1,341 people took the fourth dose.

The CoviShield vaccine was approved for use in those 18 years of age and older. The vaccine was found to be safe and effective overall. But now it has been found that it carries the risk of a rare but serious side effect known as thrombocytopenia or TTS thrombosis. This rare disease can occur in about two to three people per 100,000 people vaccinated.

According to public health experts, there is some concern about the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

Former DGHS director Dr Be-Nazir Ahmed told Bangla Tribune that some people in the United States have been diagnosed with TTS. Deaths have also been reported. 

“Many people have taken this vaccine in Bangladesh. Although it is a rare disease, there is nothing much to be disturbed about. We have to see how many people in Bangladesh can actually get this disease. It needs to be researched.”

He also said that research will show how many people may or may not have had it. “We also need to monitor conditions in neighbouring India. Most people there have been vaccinated with AstraZeneca. 

“So they have to understand the situation there. We may not match with the United States because the physical characteristics of its population are different from ours. We have to look at India as we have demographic similarities.” 

Dr Be-Nazir said the DGHS has information on vaccination recipients. “If it is found to be harmful to public health, action should be taken accordingly,” he added.

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