Despite challenges, govt decides to take vaccine from COVAX

The Daily Star  January 12, 2021

We must procure, preserve and distribute according to protocol

According to a recent report in this paper, the government has decided to take the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from COVAX despite challenges of maintaining the cold chain—it needs to be stored at very low temperatures of about minus 70 degrees Celsius, far below the normal refrigeration levels—and ensuring the supply of the particular syringes required. The COVAX programme, led by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and global alliance GAVI, has offered Bangladesh around four lakh doses of the vaccine developed by US drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. The vaccine has already been administered in several countries, including the United States, Canada, Qatar, Bahrain and Mexico. The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) will soon inform COVAX about the decision, along with a detailed deployment plan.

While this is a positive step forward as procuring vaccines is a global priority at this time, we must not forget the fact that the distribution of this vaccine can be complicated. Industry insiders have said that only a few organisations have the equipment to store the doses. If everything goes according to plan, the vaccine is likely to arrive by March, but it will mostly be used in Dhaka due to the lack of the required storage facilities outside the capital. Another matter of concern is the 0.3 ml syringe needed to administer the vaccine, which is not readily available in the country and needs to be certified by the WHO.

Given the huge logistical challenges of the initiative, the government must make an all-out effort to inoculate the public following protocol. As the severity of the crisis continues, we hope the government will take all the necessary steps to secure the syringes required and also procure, preserve and distribute the vaccines successfully. Extra care needs to be given to maintain the cold chain. We must not forget that those who are at greater risk, such as frontline workers and the elderly, should be given priority. At the same time, the authorities must keep in mind that the initiative needs to be transparent, so as to avoid any form of corruption or misappropriation that can end up having devastating public health consequences.

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