The World Bank (WB) in its latest Bangladesh Development Update (BDU) listed three factors on which, it said, would depend the recovery or collapse of the country's economy.
The pace of vaccination against the deadly Covid-19 is one of those factors.
The WB has made a lower growth projection at 2.6 per cent for the financial year 2020-21 in the event of a slower pace of vaccination, restrictions on mobility and a volatile global economy. In a better scenario, the projection has been set at 5.6 per cent. The restrictions on mobility are also dependent on the Covid situation. If the infection rate comes below 5.0 per cent, restrictions on mobility would be eased.
Bangladesh on its part can do little on the global economic volatility. The situation would largely depend on the scale of infection in the major global economies.
Under the prevailing circumstances, the pace of vaccination is one factor over which the government should exercise its control.
Now, how is Bangladesh doing in carrying forward the Covid vaccination?
Bangladesh is one of the few countries that have, until now, done well as far as mass vaccination is concerned. The government could procure a vaccine, developed by the Oxford-AstraZeneca, from the Serum Institute of India in January last and start the vaccination programme on February 07 last. The vaccination campaign being well-oraganised has drawn appreciation from all quarters.
But there had been some problems with the people's response to the vaccine, it seems.
In the second week of the vaccination programme, the response was at its peak. On Feb 18, more than 2,61,000 people took the jab throughout the country. The number of people taking the vaccine was above 200,000 until 22nd February. The number started declining since then, it declined to below 100,000 on March 11 and, finally, plunged to only 13,000 on April 07 last.
But following the resurgence of the infection since the early part of last month, the people, in greater numbers, have started queuing up before the vaccination booths at various government hospitals and health facilities. On April 13, as many as 236,000 people took vaccines.
Until April 13 last, nearly 6.5 million people got vaccines. More than 5.7 million got the first dose and 0.733 million second dose. All these data are available with the directorate general of health services (DGHS).
The official campaign to encourage people to take Covid vaccines has been conspicuously absent in recent weeks. Undeniably, most takers of Coveshield jabs have been from the middle and upper-middle-class, and rich families. Not many poor and low-income people have gone for vaccination and there has not been any strong campaign to encourage them to get the vaccine. There also exists a strong bias against vaccines among these people.
Then again, uncertainty has surfaced lately over the availability of vaccine from the Serum as the Indian government has imposed a ban on the export of Covid vaccines.
Bangladesh has so far got 10.2 million doses of vaccine, including 7.0 million from Serum. The Indian vaccine manufacturer had struck a deal on delivering 30 million doses over six months ---5.0 million doses in each month. The deal on vaccine supply came into effect on February 01 last. The Serum was supposed to make available 15 million doses between February and April.
With the current level of daily vaccination, the vaccine doses available with the DGHS will be able to meet the demand for another couple of weeks, at best.
It is not clear whether the government will be able to manage new shipments of vaccine by that time. Import of vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna is not feasible for technical reasons. Getting vaccines from China and Russia would not be possible within a short time. Yet the health officials appear to be confident about continuing with the vaccination programme.
Meanwhile, according to the WB report, Bangladesh is set to receive 68 million doses of vaccine doses under the Covax initiative. The vaccines will start arriving next month.
However, a top Bangladesh health official told the media that they were not aware of the Covax vaccine shipment.
COVAX is a global initiative aimed at ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines led by the UNICEF, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and others.