File photo: A small bottle labeled with a ‘Vaccine’ sticker is held near a medical syringe in front of displayed ‘Coronavirus Covid-19’ words in this illustration taken on April 10, 2020 Reuters
The calls were made at the 19th online meeting of the committee presided by its chairman Prof Mohammad Sahidullah on Thursday
As rich nations have already purchased over half of the promised Covid-19 vaccine stocks, the Covid-19 National Technical Advisory Committee has recommended to the government to pay in advance to acquire vaccines quickly, as soon as they are released.
The top Bangladeshi advisory panel urged for quicker action as there is an ongoing competition among countries to avail the vaccines on a first-come first-serve basis from Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, a public-private global health alliance.
Failing which, Bangladesh could be late in collecting them in time, which is very crucial in the fight against the pandemic, as many lives can be spared if critical Covid-19 patients are administered shots in time.
The calls were made at the 19th online meeting of the committee presided by its chairman Prof Mohammad Sahidullah on Thursday, said a press release.
A recent study by Oxfam showed a group of wealthy countries representing just 13% of the world population have already secured the lion’s share of doses.
“Access to a life-saving vaccine shouldn’t depend on where you live or how much money you have,” said Robert Silverman of Oxfam America, criticizing the move.
The Bangladeshi committee suggested that efforts to communicate with multiple sources for collecting vaccines instead of turning to just a single vaccine should continue.
Contacting the countries, whose governments are involved in developing the vaccines, could be a wise move for Bangladesh, it opined.
The vaccination program, it further said, has to be institutionalized and the vaccine deployment plan needs to be finalized now.
Emphasizing on the arrangements for follow-up of adverse reactions of the vaccine, the Covid-19 NTAC urged inclusion of appropriate and skilled organizations such as Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), and Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) for working with International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) in the vaccines’ trial process.
The Covid-19 test in three methods (PCR, antigen, and antibody test) would play a crucial role in tackling the pandemic, experts of the committee told the meeting.
Now is the time to work with Serosurveillance, regarding which antibody tests need to be started, NTAC said.
Bangladesh does not have the cold-chain management system which is needed for transporting or storing vaccines within the safe temperature range of 2°C to 8°C, the experts said.
Serosurveillance provides estimates of antibody levels against infectious diseases and is considered the gold standard for measuring population immunity due to past infection or vaccination.
Since Durja puja – the biggest religious festival of the Hindu community in Bangladesh – is expected to be held mid-October, the committee urged that it be celebrated on a limited scale, maintaining health guidelines, considering the Covid-19 crisis.
Other major recommendations
The committee also suggested that the government bolster public awareness to enhance the number of Covid-19 tests, and upgrade the sample collection and testing quality.
It also pointed out the need for quicker implementation of the government’s campaign on using face masks.
Preparing a proper list of deceased health workers and submitting it to the ministry concerned to ensure that their families get grants was also among the recommendations made.
“The country is doing everything necessary to get the vaccine and we are not behind the others,” Director General of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), Prof ABM Khurshid Alam told the media recently.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Zahid Maleque is hopeful about Bangladesh getting the vaccine by next July, depending on the successful trial of the vaccines.
Mentioning that the government is communicating with different countries in this regard, he said: “We may receive the vaccine at the earliest from wherever we can.”
Status of vaccine development
The five leading vaccine candidates currently in late-stage trials will be able to supply 5.9 billion doses, enough to inoculate about three billion people, the Oxfam report said.
The wealthy countries, such as the US, the UK, members of the EU, Australia, Hong Kong, and Macau, Japan, Switzerland, and Israel snapped up some 51% of the vital shots in advance.
The remaining 2.6 billion have been bought by or promised to developing countries including India, Bangladesh, China, Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico.
‘Vaccination for most vulnerable group’
It is not possible to administer the vaccine to the entire population at the same time, so the government should identify the group of people with the highest risk of infection in Bangladesh, and prioritize them for the vaccine, the Covid-19 NTAC said last month.
The committee also recommended formulating guidelines on how the vaccine should be distributed and supplied to the places that require it, with the help of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG), which is in charge of planning vaccine administration in the country.