The initial confusion created over the earlier reported statement made by the head of the Indian company producing the Oxford vaccine seems to have been dispelled once and for all. Bangladesh has finally been assured by the Indian government as well as the vaccine producer that there is no export ban on the vaccine and that Bangladesh would get the 30 million doses as agreed upon earlier from the manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India (SII).
There is no denying the widespread anxiety and frustration in public mind in Bangladesh as elsewhere in the world about mankind's ability to get rid of the curse of the pandemic. As the second wave of the Covid-19 began in Europe and then gradually spread to the rest of the world including, perhaps, Bangladesh, the peoples everywhere became fatalistic. Many started to question the ability, even the relevance, of the modern medical science as it could not come up with a quick answer to the pandemic. True, the 'Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)' that causes the Covid-19 disease is different from other previously known pandemics in many respects. One latest example of its mercurial nature has become evident from the way it suddenly turned more contagious after the pandemic's second wave struck the UK. It happened under the watch of the epidemiologists engaged in efforts to understand as well as control the spread of the virus. No doubt scientists in the laboratories across the globe are baffled at its recalcitrance. People have already started to doubt the efficacy of the just developed vaccines like the varieties of Oxford-Astra-Zeneca of the UK or the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna of America. Other vaccines developed by China and Russia will also come under similar public scrutiny. The public's doubt about these vaccines' efficacy will not easily go even after assurances from the scientists involved in the research that those (vaccines) will be equally effective against the new variant of the Covid-19.
In this era of internet and social media, no part of the world is beyond the reach of inquisitive people. The concern created in the UK, Europe and other advanced nations over the new variant of the corona virus has meanwhile assailed this part of the world. So, many will be questioning also here if the Oxford vaccine to be imported from India will work in case the more contagious variant has reached Bangladesh.
So, there is no reason to believe that the people here are too enthused about the vaccine. But those who will be questioning the efficacy of the vaccine do not all fall under the same category of 'non-believers'. There are some among them who have at least their faith in science, or in medical science, to be specific. But there are also others who have no faith in medical science or any of its inventions including vaccine. Worse yet, as in the developed countries, many here believe in various conspiracy theories against vaccines. Like their Western counterparts, some believe that the global corporate cabal is out to dominate the unsuspecting public through these vaccines which might contain devices like nano-scale memory chips to collect their health-related data secretly. Others who are more traditional may have different fears about the vaccine. One may recall here the experiences of Pakistan and Afghanistan where in some parts health workers engaged in the immunisation programme against polio have been attacked, even killed on the suspicion that they were engaged in implementing an imperialist agenda of rendering their children sterile. So, fears against the immunization efforts are many, let alone against the one yet to start to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
Clearly, there is hardly any scope to relax thinking that the people will embrace the vaccine with open arms.
This is, however, not to say that this is the standard attitude of the public regarding vaccines or immunisation programmes in general. In fact, people here were used to seeing many such immunization programmes in the past. Even so, such question arises considering the peculiar nature of the corona virus itself and the particular point of time it has struck the world.
In the current context of the politically fractious, violent world, many among the God-fearing people believe the pandemic is a punishment from God for the sins humanity has been committing against their fellow beings. So, they think no vaccine or any other curative developed by science is going to work against the scourge of corona virus. Another section of the population who is otherwise scientific-minded will be concerned about the harmful side effects, if any, of the vaccine. Overall, there will be a mix of different responses of the public to the vaccine.
So, the government's upcoming vaccination programme will be confronting more than one challenge.
For a successful vaccination programme, the government will have to take into account all such impediments that may come in its way. It is important to ensure that the public reposes enough confidence in the anti-Covid-19 vaccination initiative before it is launched.
In this context, one cannot be oblivious of the fact that the people in general are not serious about observing the basic health protocols like wearing masks and maintaining social distance. And there is some degree of frustration among experts as well as health workers about such casual public attitude towards the basic health guidelines.
That means that those in charge of implementing the immunisation drive after the vaccine arrives will also need to do some work to build public trust in the programme. This will be part of the overall awareness campaign against the Covid-19 pandemic. And the more the public is convinced of the usefulness of the vaccination effort the more will it be successful.