The third wave of COVID-19 pandemic created a lot of worry and despair in Bangladesh in recent days especially with heavy transmission of the ‘Delta’ variant. This time the transmission is recorded more at different border districts though Dhaka remains at great risk. Another confusing ‘lockdown’ has started from yesterday throughout the country and people are rushing for their village home from the capital without caring about any safety protocols elevating COVID-19 risks. From all aspects, vaccination with serious awareness canonly eliminate or control COVID-19 in Bangladesh.
Initially it was declared that Bangladesh will go into a seven-day strict lockdown from 28 June, 2021 after the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC) on Covid-19 recommended a 14-day strict shutdown considering the worsening Covid-19 situation. But later it was declared that the seven-day strict lockdown will be imposed from 1 July though limited-scale lockdown was imposed for three days from 28 June. The strict lockdown was delayed due to June closing of the banks and financial institutions and such unorganized planning might again put us in COVID-19 danger.
There are millions of people who came from rural areas in large cities like; Dhaka and Chittagong for their livelihood. Many of them do not have any earning source if lockdown is imposed. Keeping them locked in these cities cannot work without any money in their hand to feed their families and to pay their rents. But we have closed all outbound transports from Dhaka. Now, millions of people are moving out of Dhaka ignoring all COVID-19 safety protocols spending heavy money on alternative transports.
We are not a welfare state. In developed countries, the government serves food at the doorsteps of its citizens, pays for social safety, provides uncut salaries and many things else. But we cannot do that. There are many middle-income people who are living in hell with curtailed income and high price of commodities and utilities. They cannot stand in line to receive aids. But this group is completely ignored by everyone. Many of them also need to leave Dhaka for their survival.
Additionally, our capital Dhaka is very densely populated and it is good if the population goes down during this heavy COVID-19 transmission period. Hence, the government should have declared lockdown for at least 14 days with a 3-days prior notice keeping all outbound mass transports open for those three days so that the low-income people could leave Dhaka without any trouble.
Food security repeatedly comes out as a great problem for implementing measures like lockdown in our country. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina already expressed her commitment to ensure food for all the people though it is very difficult task for the government alone. The NGOs, different social and cultural organizations and personalities, large business houses, humanitarian organizations etc. must come up to share this huge responsibility.
In India, Tata Group and many cultural personalities like SonuSood came up to help people during the difficult COVID-19 period. But we are yet to see such strong initiatives in Bangladesh. These organizations of our country should commit to ensure food for certain number of families. They should contribute food or food packs to the PM’s office and the distribution will be made from there.
Observing the lockdown and its ineffectiveness, vaccination with awareness comes up as the only hope to fight COVID-19 in Bangladesh though the vaccine cannot provide the guarantee of cent per cent effectiveness. Bangladesh began administration of COVID-19 vaccines on 27 January 2021 while mass vaccination started on 7 February 2021. Bangladesh ordered vaccine produced by Serum Institute of India, however it delivered less than half of the doses as agreed with Bangladesh government. After the vaccine shortage, Bangladesh approved Russian Sputnik V and Chinese BBIBP-CorV vaccines for emergency use in late April 2021. Bangladesh has also authorized the emergency of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and to be distributed as part of COVAX.
It was reported that the Bangladesh government planned to give permission to Bangladeshi made Bangavax developed by Globe Biotech Ltd. to conduct the first clinical trial that got listed in the ‘Draft landscape and tracker of Covid-19 candidate vaccines’ by the World Health Organization (WHO). However fate of the Bangavax is still uncertain due to unknown reasons.
On 5 November 2020, a tripartite agreement was signed where Bangladesh ordered 30 million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from Serum through Beximco. The Bangladesh government paid in advance for 15 million doses. However Serum supplied only 7 million doses in the first two months of 2021. Bangladesh was supposed to receive 5 million doses per month but not received shipments in March and April. As a result, rollout of vaccine was disrupted by supply shortfalls. Bangladesh suspended the first dosing of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from 26 April 2021 due to the supply crunch.
On 27 April 2021, Bangladesh’s drug regulator has authorized the emergency use of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Russia has proposed to produce their vaccine in Bangladesh with joint collaboration with a local pharmaceutical company. Bangladesh has already given policy approval in this regard. On 29 April 2021, Bangladesh’s drug regulator has authorized the emergency use of China’s BBIBP-CorV. Bangladesh ordered 15 million doses of Sinopharm BBIBP-CorV and received 500,000 doses as a gift.
On 27 May 2021, Directorate General of Drug Administration has authorized the emergency use of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. COVAX has already sent 106,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. As of 11 June 2021, Bangladesh has received commitment to acquire 1 million 800 shots of AstraZeneca vaccines under the COVAX programme. On 25 June 2021, Health Minister Zahid Maleque announced Bangladesh will get 2.5 million doses of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine within next ten days from COVAX facilities.
Till yesterday over 10.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine were given and 4.27 million people received both doses of their COVID-19 vaccines. From a study, it was found that, COVID-19 antibody was found among 91% of the people who received both doses of their vaccines, which raises our hopes. We should focus on getting patents of COVID-19 vaccines from our allies to produce vaccine on our soil while we need to approve ‘Bangavax’ soon.
One thing we lag behind is research on the vaccine and its effectiveness. We need to have analysis on the vaccines’ effectiveness like; how many of the vaccinated ones are getting infected again, vaccines’ effectiveness on different age group, vaccines’ reaction with people with different diseases etc. But unfortunately, this sort of research is very rare in Bangladesh and if done, the sample base is too narrow to draw a proper conclusion. Hence, we should focus on this sort of research on a much larger scale.
Countries like Israel, Vietnam were among the firsts to complete vaccinating most of their people. The people were also very supportive to their government’s decisions. Whenever, they saw a threat, they responded immediately. But despite lots of learning, we are always slow to react. If the current lockdown was imposed 2 weeks back, the situation could have been controlled much easily. It was found at different parts of the world including Bangladesh that, despite receiving the full doses of COVID-19 vaccine, few got infected and even died. Hence, our people must not drop their COVID-19 safety protocols even if they receive the vaccine. Only this awareness along with quick vaccination can allow us to get rid of the COVID-19 threats.
The vaccine registration process is very complicated in Bangladesh for the people with low or no education. But our people mostly belong to that low-educated group and so, this process must be made easier. We should open ward-wise camps where anyone from that ward can come to receive vaccine. Moreover, we need to increase our vaccine drive capacity immediately.
Vaccinating our people quickly must be our only priority. The government, under the farsighted leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, was one of the first-movers to start vaccination which could not be sustained for some unfortunate events. We hope, vaccine production will start in our country someday soon which will ensure the safety of our people as well as will keep us safe from global vaccine politics. With good intent and organized planning, we can survive.
The writer is chief editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at
Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron, Bangabandhu Shishu Kishore Mela