The government has recently dropped the vaccination age limit to 30 years, gradually from 55 years, in order to cover more citizens under the mass vaccination campaign.
Public health experts, however, suggested inoculating the elderly citizens first so that the death in Covid could be controlled as many people of the age group have already been diagnosed with diseases related to kidney, heart and other old age complications; thus elderly people are more vulnerable to Covid-19.
The latest decision was made after the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19 recommended the government to lower the age limit for vaccination to 18 years, and the arrival of some more vaccines from sources, including US and China before Eid-al-Azha.
Bangladesh, a country of over 170 million population, has so far inoculated about 11.1 million people, including both first and second doses. Meanwhile, more than 10.6 million people have registered for being vaccinated, according to the health ministry.
Benazir Ahmed, former director (disease control) of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) observed that lowering the age limit to 18 years now is not logical right now. He criticised the government for continuing to lower the age limit and ignore experts’ suggestions on mass vaccination.
“We have a national experts’ team on vaccination. Instead of an age-based inoculation campaign we, the team, suggested the government vaccinate people based on groups of vulnerability and priority. But those suggestions have hardly been followed,” Benazir, also a member of the expert team, added.
We also suggested inoculating the ‘super spreader’ groups to vaccinate on a priority basis. ‘Super spreader’ groups, including public bus drivers and helpers need to be inoculated so that the virus could not be transmitted fast.
“Meanwhile, our education sector is among the worst affected. We could have inoculated the teachers and students on a priority basis under the ‘priority group’ and could reopen colleges, universities and medical colleges by this time,” he continued.
“People have not benefited from the decision to lower the age limit. So many elderly people could not be vaccinated despite being vulnerable to the virus. The government is committing one mistake after another in taking the right vaccine policy. Availability of vaccines has become very difficult, so we have to ensure the proper use of it,” he added.
There is a wide gap of enlisting elderly people in city and rural areas, as many as 80 per cent elderly citizens in rural areas are feared to be out of the inoculation campaign, he observed.
Mushtaq Hossain, a virologist and chief advisor at Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) told the FE that the government move and NTAC suggestion are welcoming on lowering the age limit but we have to ensure the vaccination of elderly people on priority basis as they are the most vulnerable group to the deadly virus.
“Citizens aged 55 years remain on the top of the Covid-19 casualty list, and if we want to lower the death rate then we have to ensure vaccination for the people surrounding the age. In European countries 95 per cent elderly people have already got vaccinated and get a positive result,” he continued.
“If we start vaccinating young people first then it will raise the number of vaccine recipients but would be difficult to curb the death rate,” he continued.
We can lower the age limit further upon availability of vaccines from sources in the coming days, he added.
Besides, vaccination data said women are lagging behind in taking vaccines compared to their male counterparts, he added, suggesting taking initiative and awareness to cover more women under inoculation campaigns.
Dr Robed Amin, spokesperson of the DGHS, told the FE that “Upon the availability of more vaccines from sources, we can lower the age limit further. Meanwhile, we already had a plan to lower the age limit gradually, and we lowered the age limit from 55 years.”
But our priority is to inoculate the elderly people first. And, in the registration process we do allow and provide vaccination schedules to the elderly people on priority, he added.