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Speaking to Prothom Alo, Abul Bashar Mohammed Khurshid Alam, director general of DGHS, said on Monday, “At present, the age limit of the vaccine recipients is 40 years. We are thinking about reducing that age bar in phases. We have sent a proposal to the health ministry to lower the age limit to 35 years. If the age limit is reduced, more people will be vaccinated.”

If the age limit is reduced, a total of 34.1 million people would come under the vaccination drive. The government officials say now there is a scope of regular supply of the vaccine. Based on this, the government wants to extend the vaccination drive. As of Monday, some 7.28 (7,289,564) million people have registered for the coronavirus vaccine.

Pharmacologist and dean of the pharmacology department of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), Sayedur Rahman told Prothom Alo, “The intent to cover more people under the vaccination drive is appreciable. But people of the age group with higher casualties should be prioritised. The group with higher risk should be prioritised as the stock of vaccine is limited.”

Population against vaccine

The population of Bangladesh is 164.7 million according to the world population projection (2020) of the United Nations (UN).

The demographers say some 34.1 million people of Bangladesh are aged 35 years or more. Therefore, a total 68.2 million doses of vaccines would be needed to administer the people of this age group with both doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

Bangladesh has received a total of 16 million doses of vaccine. Of them 10.3 million doses are Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines from the Serum institute in India, 3.1 millions are Sinopharm vaccines from China. Bangladesh has also received 2.5 million doses of Moderna vaccine and 100,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine through the COVAX initiative. Some 8 million people can be vaccinated with this at most.

Shamsul Haque, director of Maternal, Neo-natal and Child Health programme of the DGHS, told Prothom Alo, “A total of 1.5 million Sinopharm vaccines from China have been procured. Bangladesh has already received 2 million doses. The rest will arrive in a short period.”

With the vaccines of Sinopharm, the total amount of the vaccines would be 29 million. Some 14.5 million people can be vaccinated with both doses at most with this amount of vaccine.

Apart from this, Bangladesh would also receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine under the COVAX initiative. It would come from the Serum Institute in India. However, the health officials could not guarantee when these vaccines would arrive.

But the government continues to find alternative sources of vaccines. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina too has reiterated this during the last session of the parliament.

The government has a plan to vaccinate 80 per cent of the total population in phases. To implement this plan, they have to vaccinate 131.76 million people. Therefore, a total of 263.52 million doses of vaccine would be needed to vaccinate these people with both doses. However, many are doubtful about the procurement of such a vast amount of vaccines and subsequent processes.

Till now, some 5 per cent of the total population has been vaccinated. If everything goes according to the plan, another 5 per cent of the total population would be vaccinated within the next three to four months.

When asked about the benefit of this, Sayedur Rahman told Prothom Alo, “Even if these 10 per cent people contract coronavirus, many of them would not need to go to hospital. Even if they are hospitalised, they would not need oxygen as much as the non-vaccinated patients. Even if they need oxygen, they would not need the service of an intensive care unit (ICU). The Covid related casualties would be much less among the vaccinated people.”

Registration on-going

After being stalled for a number of days, the vaccine registration restarted on 26 June. However, only the expatriate workers, medical students, residential students of public universities, police and Bangladeshi students studying abroad are getting this chance initially.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Mizanur Rahman, director of the Management Information System of the DGHS, said there is a possibility of opening the vaccine registration for all the people aged 35 years or above by next week.

People eligible for vaccine

Anyone aged 35 years or more can register for the vaccination through the Surokkha app. However, the government has a special priority for farmers and industrial and transport workers.

Shamsul Haque, director of Maternal, Neo-natal and Child Health programme of the DGHS said, “A decision has been taken to ask the concerned ministries to develop a list of farmers and industrial and transport workers. The vaccine registration for these groups of people would start after getting the list from the respective ministries.”

However, farmers and workers aged 35 years or more can register for the vaccine on their own, he added.

Moderna vaccine available only in city corporations

The Moderna vaccines from the USA would be available only in the 12 city corporations. These are – Dhaka North, Dhaka South, Khulna, Rajshahi, Sylhet, Mymensingh, Barishal, Rangpur and Cumilla city corporations. Citizens of these city corporations would get the Moderna vaccine.

Shamsul Haque told Prothom that the people in the rest of the districts and upazilas would get the Sinopharm vaccine. When asked why only the people in the city corporation areas would get the Moderna vaccine, he said that Moderna vaccines need to be preserved at a low temperature which is not possible at the district level. But the city corporations have the capacity to do so.

*This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu

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