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Covid-19 inoculations: Bangladesh reaping benefits of EPI

  • Published at 05:25 pm February 20th, 2021
Vaccine Bangladesh DMC
File photo of a nurse injects Oxford-AstraZeneca's Covishield vaccine to an elderly man at the Dhaka Medical College vaccination centre in Dhaka, Bangladesh, February 9, 2021 Reuters

Bangladesh initiated the Expanded Program on Immunization with 6 conventional vaccines in 1979

The successful completion of the first two weeks of the nationwide Covid-19 program demonstrates that the campaign has gained the trust of the general people, who have overcome their initial fears surrounding the vaccine.

Health experts, virologists and physicians are of the opinion that despite this being the first mass level adult vaccination in the country, the process is going on without a hitch as Bangladesh already had the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) in place.

Bangladesh initiated the EPI with six conventional vaccines — BCG, DPT, OPV, TT and Measles — at the outset in 1979.

One can appreciate the program considering the fact that the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) launched a 44-day-long “Measles-Rubella Vaccination Campaign" on December 12 last year across the country, with the aim of vaccinating 34,000,000 children. However, they were able to immunize 36,000,000 children and teenagers against the diseases by the time they had concluded the program. 

In a similar vein, Bangladesh has been able to administer Covid-19 vaccines to around two million people in just 14 days following the start of the nationwide drive on February 7.

Meanwhile, over 3.18 million people have signed up to receive the Covid vaccine jab since surokkha.gov.bd, the vaccine registration website, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on January 27.

As many as 2,082,877 people have been inoculated against Covid-19 so far. Of them, 1,378,935 were men and 703,942 were women, according to the DGHS.

On Saturday, 234,564 people — 145,280 men and 89,284 women — received their first dose of the vaccine.

Forty-one of Saturday’s vaccine recipients experienced side effects. Till now, the health authorities have recorded side effects in 578 people. 

The Covid-19 vaccination program is being implemented by the Maternal, Neonatal, Child and Adolescent Health unit of the DGHS, with Dr Md Shamsul Haque, member-secretary of the Covid-19 Vaccine Management Committee, as the unit’s line director.

Also read - Bangladesh vaccinates over 2m people

EPI Program Manager Dr Mowla Baksh Chaudhury told Dhaka Tribune that all EPI officials were working in the countrywide program and the vaccine providers of the EPI would be trained to administer the Covid-19 vaccine.

“We are trying to use all the experiences gathered during our EPI campaigns,” he said.

Dr Shamsul Haque said although they were initially thinking of administering vaccines through EPI staff, they later decided to continue the process with nurses who were already dispensing vaccines and other medicines to patients.

The vaccines were being provided at hospitals, so it was logical to choose nurses to handle the job, he added.

Asked if the EPI vaccine dispensers were in reserve, Dr Shamsul Haque said: “Not really,” before adding that the DGHS was considering them as an extra resource. 

“They may turn out to be a valuable asset for us when the program is extended to village or union levels,” he added.

Currently, the Covid-19 vaccine is administered at medical college hospitals, specialized hospitals and district and upazila level government hospitals.

‘Praiseworthy’ progress

The authorities are vaccinating citizens at 1,006 centres, where around 2,590 booths have been set up.

The DGHS has immunized a little over 225,000 people for the last five days on average, well below its current capacity — it has the ability to vaccinate some 388,000 people daily.

Around 15,540 vaccine providers and volunteers are currently working at the inoculation booths.

“Aside from some minor issues, the progress of the vaccination campaign has been smooth and praiseworthy,” commented Dr Sayedur Rahman, professor at the Department of Pharmacology of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU).

DGHS Director General Dr ABM Khurshid Alam from the very beginning of the campaign had been saying that it would be managed without much difficulty as they had gained enough experience from the EPI. “People will put their trust in our activities once the program starts.”

Expressing satisfaction over the whole program, Health Minister Zahid Maleque on Thursday said: “The health authorities have succeeded [in inoculating people] to such an extent that people who were initially critical of the campaign are now rushing to receive the vaccine.”

Surokkha app now available

Surokkha, the mobile application made for vaccine registration, is now available on Google Play.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Division System Manager Masum Billah said: “The app was placed on Google Play on Thursday night.”

Seeking anonymity, an ICT Division official told Dhaka Tribune that Google had asked them to clear up some issues regarding user privacy and the app was approved after the concerns had been addressed.

The application would be released for iOS devices soon, he added.

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