Every day we live in fear of contracting Covid-19, while hospitals are shaken by clamours, cries and loud prayers as the innocent bodies lie flat.
However, even when humanity sufferss, there is still a glimmer of hope, shining like a beam of sunlight right through the darkest cloud.
It is the vaccine, our strongest weapon so far against our microscopic nemesis.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines are basically weaker versions of the causative agent - in this case, the SARS-Cov-2 virus strain - or synthetic substitutes of it that are introduced to a body to act as an antigen (without of course causing the disease), so that the human immune system responds to it by producing specific antibodies to fight the disease, according to findings available. Since these antibodies are believed to remain in the body for a long period of time, they will act upon the specific strain the next time it gets into the body, and protect the body from the disease.
Vaccines have proved to be efficient against various diseases like Hepatitis B, Polio or Measles, and we hope it sure will be a great asset in the war against Covid-19. When the majority of a population are vaccinated, the risk of spreading the disease decreases significantly. This is called ‘herd’ or ‘indirect’ immunity. Hence the larger the proportion of the population vaccinated, the better.
Challenge for Bangladesh
The main challenge faced by Bangladesh is the availability of the vaccine.
Bangladesh has signed a trade deal of 30 million vaccines with SII, and hence according to the government’s plan, 5.0 million vaccines would be provided each month over a course of six months. This sounded like a smooth plan, but the reality turned out to be nerve-racking. Only 7.0 million vaccines had been provided in the first two months, and in the subsequent month, 3.0 million more were sent as gifts from India. With 10 million vaccines available in stock, and India halting supply to the nation to meet local demand due to surging Covid cases, it has become quite a challenge to inoculate even 40 per cent of the Bangladesh population.
Why did Bangladesh have to face this problem of shortage? It's because till now Bangladesh had only purchased the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Hence an entire nation with a dense population was depending only on one vaccine and one supplier - the SII - and there are some understandable reasons for this.
The vaccine produced by Oxford and AstraZeneca is the cheapest vaccine that is at our disposal. The Oxford-AstraZeneca costs Bangladesh about $5 per shot, or Tk 425, while the other vaccines like the Pfizer or Moderna cost somewhere between $30 and $38 per shot, and Chinese vaccines cost over $20 per shot. For a developing economy like Bangladesh, 55 million jabs each costing over $20 is quite a burden.
While the vaccine can be the only long-lasting solution to the pandemic that has threatened humanity for over a year now, it seems like further steps have to be taken and policies need to be implemented to overcome the crisis.
What can be done?
As humanity stands face to face against an invisible force capable of snatching away lives, it is the perfect time that our world leaders and the figures we look up to start acting rationally to send humans down the right trajectory.
Large philanthropic organisations can play a vital role in making sure there is equity in vaccine distribution. Charitable organisations around the world can provide funds to GAVI to help them spread their arms and reach out to every corner of the globe.
Moreover, new policies can be implemented regarding Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Through CSR programmes, companies can broaden their image by actively engaging in volunteering and philanthropic works. If big corporations in Bangladesh along with numerous public and private firms stand up to their moral responsibility and show integrity by obliging CSR and funding vaccination, maybe we can acquire vaccines from many other sources and inoculate a larger portion of our population.
In the Boao Forum for Asia (BAF) conference, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called upon world leaders to declare vaccines as ‘global public goods ‘. Nobel laureate Dr Muhammad Yunus made the same proposal back in June 2020.
Global public goods are non-rival and non-excludable goods with merits or demerits that extend beyond the limits of one single country and do not need to be paid for. Vaccines for the most part have been non-rival because they can be availed by anyone, but they have been excludable too because the more economically and otherwise stronger countries have been stocking them up to immunise only their own citizens. This move has caused vaccine shortages for lower-income countries.
In these times of hardship, consolidation is ever more imperative. Nations, government agencies, private companies and philanthropists must stand together to ensure equity in vaccine distribution. It is time the wheels of the economy started rotating again, students returned to their classrooms and people began moving back to their regular lives which have been halted for more than a year now. For that everybody must receive the vaccine. And our duty as responsible citizens should be to wear masks and use hand sanitisers at all times even after we have been inoculated. Unity is key in this situation.
Because, together, we can fight the pandemic situation and build a better future.
Shabab Tashrif Zaman is a student of Grade XI in Scholastica School (SRU).