DHAKA: Bangladeshi health authorities launched a nationwide campaign to vaccinate a record 8 million people in a single day on Tuesday as part of a special inoculation drive to mark Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s birthday.
The South Asian nation’s previous vaccination peak was 2.7 million doses administered in a single day last month, with a daily average of 500,000 shots, according to official data.
“The mass vaccination campaign will cover an additional 7.5 million people to mark this special day, while .5 million will be vaccinated as part of a regular drive,” Dr A.S.M. Alamgir, principal scientific officer at the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, told Arab News.
“The campaign began at 9 a.m. and will continue until we meet targets. It’s a record number of shots for a single day in the country. Earlier, 2.7 million people received their first jab in a single day in August.”
He added that the vaccine milestone drive was a gift for PM Hasina, who turned 74 on Tuesday, amid a surge in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections despite tight controls and anti-virus health measures imposed by the government.
More than 32,000 health workers and 48,000 volunteers have been deployed for Tuesday’s initiative, with plans to inoculate 6.9 million people from rural areas of the country, many of whom have yet to receive their first jab.
“Currently, there are around 25 million people in the queue. We want to vaccinate as many as possible during this mass vaccination campaign,” Alamgir said.
Bangladesh began its vaccination drive in February this year with the Covishield shots produced by the Serum Institute of India and, later, with vaccines from China.
So far, it has given at least one dose to 24.88 million adults and two doses to 9.93 percent of its total population of 170 million people, with plans to inoculate 80 percent by February next year.
Locals welcomed the initiative, with some saying it was long overdue.
“It’s been three weeks since I registered for the vaccine. My waiting period is over,” Sitara Begum, a 48-year-old resident of Rajshahi who received her first shot today, told Arab News.
Saiful Islam, a 23-year-old student at Dhaka University, said he was “relieved” to get his first shot before resuming studies in October.
“My university classes will resume next month. I was desperately waiting to receive the first jab before my classes. Otherwise, it would have been risky to attend in-person classes where chances of getting infected are high,” Islam told Arab News at a vaccination center in the capital, Dhaka.
Experts, for their part, said the government has taken a “timely decision” to curb the outbreak but pressed for improved mechanisms to avoid a surge in cases.
“We will be able to contain the infection rate if the government continues this mass vaccination drive,” Prof. Muzaherul Huq, former adviser, South-East Asia region, World Health Organization, told Arab News.
However, he added that it was imperative to develop contact tracing and isolation measures at the sub-district level for individuals testing positive.
“If we can ensure early treatment at the grassroots level, it will reduce the death rate,” Huq added.
As of Tuesday, the infection rate stood at nearly 4.5 percent, with 25 deaths reported, adding to the total tally of 27,500 fatalities recorded since March last year.