The government has scaled down its inoculation target of the six days starting August 7 from 10 million to 3.2 million people. Under a special drive or 'pilot project' as the director general (DG) of the Directorate General of Health Services calls it, the focus has been particularly directed to elderly people --with or without national identity cards (NID) -- in rural areas. This certainly is a laudable move. The myth that villagers are immune to Covid-19 has been busted ever since the Delta variant of the disease infiltrated the country.
Although the DG has candidly admitted that this drive is meant to test "our capabilities", there is an impression that not a highly effective awareness campaign was launched before the vaccination drive. When the US-based CNN has to terminate three of its employees for not taking the jabs, the ingrained anti-vaccine notion prevailing in some rural areas cannot easily be overcome. The target group -- 50 years old and above as also those with disabilities -- in rural areas and remote areas in particular are not very keen about the efficacy of vaccines. Many of them still believe that it is nothing more than common cold and flu that hardly need medication and do not change their minds unless they fall seriously ill or witness someone suffering from acute breathing problems.
So far as its manpower and distribution of vaccines are concerned, the DGHS should not have reasons to be worried. After all, this country's rich past experience and set-ups for EPI (expanded programme on immunization) should assure it of the required capabilities. Moreover, the scaled-down target has made the task less daunting.
Then the question arises on what basis did the authorities want to bring one million people under vaccination coverage a day for the six days between August 7 and August12? Before making such public announcement, people in authority should have taken into account all the factors including availability of vaccines and enough preparation particularly at the grass-roots level. A thorough homework with all the basic issues involved should have been done. Whether the same has been done in setting the down-graded target is also not known. Deployment of vaccinators and their assistants along with freezers during monsoon when rains are unpredictable and communication with isolated villages or hinterland is impossible without boats is still quite challenging.
So far as local people's representatives are concerned, several of them are not famed for carrying out government programmes unless they can set aside a portion of the government aid or assistance for their extra benefit. So the motivation will have to be instilled in them to get avidly involved.
This is why the upazila adsministration, union council representatives, teachers, social workers and village leaders are needed to be brought under an umbrella for detailing their respective participatory roles in the inoculation campaign. It is quite clear that an unwilling person cannot be brought to a vaccination centre. A youth brigade of school and college students could be formed in each village to convince people of the immense benefit of vaccination. The best performers among these young people could be given a token reward for their services. This is exactly how the community can be involved with a massive programme --- one that is most important for achieving herd immunity of the nation --- of the required order.
The good news is that 3.0 million doses, which is 90-95 per cent of the six-day target, were administered on the first day. People in long queues waited for their turn and many had to go away disappointed.
What is the programme for the remaining five days? It does not make a difference in the fact that those with no faith in vaccination will stay away unless motivated enough to get convinced of its necessity. In a country of 166 million people, the main problem is procurement of the number of vaccines this large population needs. After all, the country depends on supplies from different sources and this also warrants a comprehensive coordination.