Dhaka, Feb 7 (PTI) Bangladesh on Sunday launched its nationwide COVID-19 vaccination drive with lawmakers along with top administration and health officials taking the first shots of the vaccine provided by India.
'We are launching the campaign to save lives…This vaccine is completely safe,' Health Minister Zahid Maleque said while inaugurating the campaign at a virtual event at the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) here.
Maleque, who took the jab at Sheikh Russel National Gastroliver Institute and Hospital, urged people not to spread propaganda against the vaccine, saying it is safe and has no side effects.
Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain was among the high profile figures to receive the vaccine under a priority list.
'The (Supreme Court's) Appellate Division is the country's apex court…All members of the apex court including myself received the jab,' he told reporters at a government hospital in Dhaka.
'I am calling upon the countrymen to get registered quickly (for vaccination),' he added.
However, there have been tepid responses from vaccine seekers in the country.
Bangladesh on January 21 received as gift from India two million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine manufactured under license by the Serum Institute of India.
The first consignment of 50 lakh doses of Covishield purchased by the government landed in Dhaka on January 25.
Bangladesh has so far purchased 30 million doses from the Serum Institute of India through private Beximco pharmaceuticals under a tripartite agreement.
Health Minister Maleque said that the government is continuing its fight against the coronavirus and the condition of Bangladesh is now better than many other countries.
'The vaccine campaign will continue throughout the year. There is another process to get the jab other than online registration. People will be able to take the shots immediately after registering themselves at the vaccine centres,' said Health Minister Maleque.
Agriculture Minister Muhammad Abdur Razzaque; Fisheries and Livestock Minister SM Rezaul Karim; Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Md Shahab Uddin; Science and Technology Minister Yeafesh Osman; State Minister for Public Administration Farhad Hossain among others were also vaccinated.
The health authorities have decided to administer the second doses of the vaccine four weeks after the first jab, instead of eight weeks.
DGHS Director General Khurshid Alam on Saturday said a total of 2,400 vaccination teams would be deployed across the country - 204 teams at 50 vaccine centres in Dhaka and 2,196 teams at 1,005 centres outside Dhaka.
Bangladesh plans to vaccinate 3.5 million people free of cost in initial phase against a plan to eventually vaccinate 100 million out of its over 160 million population. Officials said nearly four lakh people have so far registered online to get the vaccine.
Officials said all front runners and mass people aged above 55 would get vaccine during the first phase of the nationwide drive.
'The vaccination campaign is not a matter of a day or month, it will continue throughout the year,' the health minister said.
According to the DGHS, 10 vaccination teams (eight on duty and two in reserve) will be deployed at hospitals of each district, while three teams (two on duty and one in reserve) will be deployed at other centres. Each team should be able to vaccinate 100-150 people per day.
Initially, the officials had planned to deploy 6,725 vaccination teams, with 619 teams in reserve. While the original deployment would have been able to vaccinate 670,000-1,000,000 people per day, the reduced number of teams should be able to inoculate about 360,000 people per day, the report said.
The South Asian country is expected to get 68 million doses of vaccines under Covax programme, co-led by World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi vaccine alliance, and Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
Meanwhile, the government has cancelled leave of health workers until February 10 due to the nationwide vaccination drive.
India is one of the world's biggest drugmakers and an increasing number of countries have already approached it for procuring the coronavirus vaccines.
In the last few weeks, India has sent consignments of domestically produced coronavirus vaccines under grant assistance to Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Mauritius and Seychelles.
It is also undertaking commercial supplies of the doses to a number of countries, including Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Brazil and Morocco.
Bangladesh has so far registered 538,062 COVID-19 cases and 8,205 fatalities. More than 483,000 people have recovered from the contagion. PTI AR/CPS AKJ ZH ZH