Can we realistically hope to vaccinate a major portion of the country by 2022?
The country is at present experiencing the highest number of deaths and infections from the Covid-19 virus since it was first diagnosed in Bangladesh in early 2020.
After the contagion had dipped to an all time low in the first fortnight of March 2021, we were rather complacent and ready to say goodbye to the deadly virus. Virologists and other health specialists in the country were, however, expecting a second spiral of the contagion similar to that in the US, UK, and many other European countries.
When the government had declared a public holiday last year to restrict the movement of people for controlling the spread of the virus, most of our citizens actually went home, to their villages, and were perhaps responsible for carrying the bug to remote areas of the country.
This time around, as the government has once again taken a similar measure, we don’t seem to have learned from our past mistake. Instead, many people are yet to understand the severity and deadliness of the Covid-19 virus.
More and more deaths are being reported every day, and the hospitals in Dhaka cannot accommodate any new patients suffering from the disease. Sufficient Intensive Care Units are not available in the hospitals, and patients are dying before arriving at the hospitals.
The Kafkaesque images of ambulances lined up in front of hospitals with patients only being taken inside after cleaning a bed following the death of a patient is simply unbearable. The government has ordered the addition of more beds and ICU units in every hospital, which is appreciable at a time when the difference between life and death to the suffering patients is razor thin.
In the backdrop of this fearful scenario, the vaccine roll-out in Bangladesh has been so far well organized and successful. People who have taken the first jab earlier have started taking the second from this week, although the first dose of the vaccine is still being administered to people in Dhaka as well as other parts of the country.
A senior professor of medicine told me that even in the medical centres in the villages, all over the country, the vaccine is available although people are not so conscious of the importance of taking the vaccine. Young doctors posted in these medical centres are doing their best to motivate the general people about the importance of getting vaccinated.
It seems to be a daunting task to vaccinate even half of our population, which would be almost 70 million. The expertise of our health system in vaccinating children is recognized by the whole world; and if sufficient vaccines are available, the goal of vaccinating a major portion of the population by the end of 2022 is realistic according to the professor I was talking to.
At present the Glaxo-AstraZeneca vaccine supplied by the Serum Institute of India is being rolled out. The government of Bangladesh is expecting more supply from the Indian source. Also, the Pfizer-produced vaccines, and the ones marketed by Russia and China are expected to arrive in Bangladesh in the near future. The government has already started negotiations with these countries, and hopefully there will be no shortage of corona vaccines in the days to come.
As the vaccine roll-out in Bangladesh is moving ahead briskly, we need to ensure that all of our citizens receive the shots on time. Also, one grey area that has to be looked into is a way out to vaccinate those citizens of the country who do not possess the National Identity Card (NID). Similarly, there are foreign citizens who are living in Bangladesh legally for a long time without finding any way to register for getting vaccinated.
I personally know a number of US citizens who have gone from pillar to post but could not get vaccinated. Surprisingly, the US Embassy was of no help to them, neither could any government agency of Bangladesh show them a way.
A few weeks ago, we heard about illegal immigrants in the UK expressing fear of not getting vaccinated; but later, the government of that country ensured that there would be no vaccine-apartheid in Britain. The US government also reassured that illegal immigrants would face no discrimination insofar as administering the Covid vaccine.
The Bangladesh government should assure all citizens of the country who have no NIDs, as well as foreign nationals, that they would not be discriminated against in the ongoing vaccine rollout.
Golam Sarwar Chowdhury teaches English at Notre Dame University Bangladesh.