DHAKA: Bangladesh is to provide coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pfizer vaccinations to migrant workers heading for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to help them meet the new travel requirements of Gulf countries.
The Bangladeshi overseas employment ministry made the announcement on Friday in the wake of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait’s updated travel restrictions requiring visitors to have had either Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, or Johnson and Johnson jabs to gain entry, leaving out the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine on which Bangladesh now relies.
Until April, Bangladesh had been administering Covishield, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by India, but its south Asian neighbor stopped delivering the shots.
Every week, 12,000 Bangladeshi workers travel to Saudi Arabia where they have had to undertake a costly 14-day quarantine period upon arrival, but with the Pfizer vaccination it will no longer be necessary.
Departures to Kuwait are scheduled to begin next month with the state expected to start receiving travelers from Aug. 1.
Bangladeshi Minister of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Imran Ahmad on Friday told Arab News: “Our migrant workers who will have the first dose of Pfizer vaccine in Bangladesh, will be exempted from the mandatory quarantine after their landing in the Kingdom.”
As the government started registering workers for vaccination, he added that workers would receive their second vaccine doses under the supervision of Saudi authorities.
Bangladesh has so far received 100,000 Pfizer vaccine doses under the World Health Organization’s COVAX program for equitable distribution of COVID-19 shots among developing nations.
“Currently, we have around 100,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines which arrived through COVAX, the global vaccine initiative,” Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research principal scientific officer, Dr. A.S.M. Alamgir, told Arab News.
He said that workers bound for Saudi Arabia or Kuwait would receive the Pfizer vaccine at seven government-run health facilities in the capital Dhaka.
“Later, the migrants will be inoculated with Moderna vaccine, which is approved by Saudi authorities as well,” he added.
Bangladesh is expecting to receive 2.5 million doses of Moderna vaccine from the US.
More than 2 million Bangladeshis work in Saudi Arabia and around 350,000 in Kuwait.
Tipu Sultan, president of the Recruiting Agencies Unity Forum, said: “Considering the current vaccine crisis around the world, the government’s decision to ease the migrant workers’ trouble to such an extent is appreciated.”
Mohammad Saleh, 27, said he had borrowed $2,000 to pay for his flight and visa in order to work in Saudi Arabia and had been worried about finding another $1,000 for mandatory quarantine.
“I was concerned about the hotel quarantine costs in the Kingdom but now I can take the flight without any worries,” he added.