Health experts have urged the policymakers to implement the COVID-19 vaccination programme cautiously as a lack of scientific preparations can cause a serious setback for the campaign.
They warned that the large-scale vaccination against the deadly virus would face a serious setback if the campaign began hurriedly as the country did not join the phase-three trial of any vaccine.
The experts suggested understanding the best way to administer the vaccine, identify the loopholes in logistics and training, assess the preparations and know other necessary things that will be required during the mass inoculation programme.
Besides, they said, the government should launch a vigorous campaign following an effective communication strategy to dispel people’s misconception and apprehension about the vaccination.
On Thursday, the Indian government sent 2.0 million doses of coronavirus vaccine as a gift to Bangladesh while 30 million doses bought from Serum Institute of India (SII) will arrive in Bangladesh in phases.
Preparing people for vaccination
Public health expert MH Chowdhury (Lenin), chairman of the medicine department at the Health and Hope Hospital, said it is a very challenging and tough job to safely distribute the vaccine doses among people.
“The first challenge is to prepare people mentally to receive the vaccine. We’ve seen in newspapers that 23 elderly people died in Norway after vaccination while two vaccine recipients died and several hundred others fell sick in India. These media reports are spreading some sort of panic among people. So, we must have a mechanism to create a positive attitude among people about the vaccine,” he said.
He said the UK, India and some other countries could not reach their vaccination target for many reasons.
“So, we’ll have to carry out a dry run or short-term trial of the vaccine in a planned way to identify the challenges and problems the government may face during the mass vaccination. It’ll also help us remove the barriers and achieve perfection,” he added.
Security at vaccination centres
Dr Lenin said the government should deploy an adequate number of law enforcers in all the vaccination centres to deal with any possible chaotic situation, irregularities and abuse of power. “Taking a lesson from coronavirus test scams, the government must send out a strong message that it won’t tolerate any kind of irregularity and abuse of power over the vaccination.”
He said vaccine recipients should be given a leaflet or guideline about what should they do if any reaction or side-effect develops among them.
Besides, an expert medical team should be kept at every vaccination centre to attend the vaccine takers if any immediate complication or side-effect develops among them.
The health expert said every person should remain under the observation of a medical team for at least one hour after receiving the vaccine. “If anyone falls sick after the vaccination, he/she must be given proper treatment so that no negative impression is created among people about the campaign.”
Launching vaccination drive under EPI
Dr Lenin opposed the formation of immunisation committees at district and upazila levels headed by DCs and UNOs as he feared that it may cause some sort of problems and lack of communication between the administration and the vaccine providers.
He said the vaccination activities should be carried out by Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) headed by civil surgeons and upazila health officers under the supervision of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
“The government has taken macro plans for the vaccination campaign, but some micro plans are also necessary to administrate the vaccine. The manpower in the EPI has the skills to implement these micro plans,” the expert said.
Online registration may not be effective
Dr Lenin said people, aged between 55 and 65, should be given the vaccine on a priority basis as the mortality rate among this group is very high. “But, I think, it’s the most challenging job to make the right lists of possible vaccine recipients based on priority".
Besides, he said, the government is going to launch an online registration drive using an app on January 26. “But many people, especially the elderly one and those living in rural areas, in our country are not friendly to technology. So, online registration will be difficult for them.”
The expert said the government should think about the alternative ways and use the public representatives and community clinics for making the proper lists of the possible vaccine recipients.
Carrying out trials
Prof Dr Mohammed Atiqur Rahman, a respiratory medicine expert and the treasurer of BSMMU, said the vaccine must be administrated with ensuring all the necessary safety and precautionary measures so that no negative impression is created.
“The government should not be in a hurry to begin the vaccination programme at the mass level. I think we should first conduct some trials at different hospitals where doctors and nurses are available with other preparation to look after the vaccine recipients in case of any sudden side effect,” he said.
Atiq said those elderly people and patients who have comorbidities should not be selected for the vaccination at the initial or trial stage. “There’s some sort of confusions among people about taking the vaccine. So, the government should be very careful in starting the mass campaign. We should earn people’s confidence through successful trials before launching a mass inoculation campaign.”
Briefing on vaccination
Abu Jamil Faisel, one of the members of the Public Health Expert Divisional Advisors' Group, said the government is taking various preparations for making the vaccination campaign a success. “But these are not enough as we don’t have previous experience of such a large-scale mass inoculation. We also did not allow the phase-three trial of any vaccine. So, it’ll be difficult to achieve perfection for lack of experience, no matter how much preparation we’ve taken and how much people we’ve trained.”
He said the government must communicate with people through a mass campaign and disseminate information about the merits and demerits of the vaccine.
“The ministers, politicians and other authorities concerned should not make any unguarded remarks on the vaccine that may create confusion among people. We must convince people to receive the vaccine through motivation.”
Faisel said the government should get ready to tackle any negative campaign and propaganda against the vaccine. “There should be a regular briefing by the DGHS on the vaccination programme and thus remove people’s confusion by giving them the necessary and right information."
Faisel said public representatives, imams, alem-ulema and NGO activists should be engaged in the vaccination drive to encourage people to receive the jabs.