It is heartening to note that the government is actively considering inoculating the elderly people with booster Covid-19 vaccine doses.
Health Minister Mr Zahid Maleque on Tuesday last disclosed this to the newsmen when a large segment of the country's population is yet to get their first dose of vaccine. More than 10 million people have got registered with the health directorate to get the vaccines and are awaiting calls.
There are two opposing opinions on giving booster doses to elderly people. One strongly supports offering booster vaccines to elderly and the people with serious health issues since they are vulnerable to infection than others. The second opinion is in favour of administering at least 70 per cent of the population with the first dose of vaccine before starting booster dose for elderly people.
The argument for offering booster doses to the elderly and the people with major health issues hold ground for, at least, a couple of reasons. First, it is now scientifically proven that the efficacy of two vaccine doses largely wanes after six to eight months. The decline in effectiveness is more with elderly people. Second, the case of offering booster dose has become even stronger because of the emergence of the omicron variant, which is reportedly more transmissible than the delta variant. Scientists, however, are still trying to gather information about the variant.
Some developed countries have already started inoculating their elderly people with booster vaccine doses. Japan has just decided to give booster doses to its population aged over 18 years. The elderly people will get the third dose first.
The contention that the government must cover the target population first is very much justified. The government has not been consistent as far as implementation of its Covid vaccination is concerned. World over, the elderly people being susceptible to infections than others have got priority over other age groups. Here, the government has faltered. The elderly and the people with underlying health issues have been treated like all others.
The rates of infection and fatality from Covid-19 are now low. But it is hard to claim that it has been due to the vaccination alone. Around 22 per cent of the targeted population has so far got two doses. The single-dose coverage is around 36 per cent. Bangladesh is now administering 9.06 doses per second or nearly 800,000 doses of Covid vaccine per day. If the vaccination goes at the present pace, the targeted 70 per cent of the population would receive two-dose coverage by the end of May 2022.
Bangladesh has the infrastructure and human resources to expand the vaccine coverage, provided enough vaccine doses are available. Given the current state of vaccination, the government can well start booster doses for elderly people on a priority basis. It should start with people who had received jabs in the initial months of the Covid vaccination drive. In that case, the government will have to arrange enough AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccine doses. The Serum Institute of India (SII) which has a contractual obligation to supply 30 million doses of Covishield needs to be approached. Indian media have reported that the SII now has a large stock of vaccines.