Even though the authorities in Rajshahi have started preparing for Covid-19 vaccination campaign by setting up centres and storages across the division, they are yet to prepare a list of people to be vaccinated.
According to officials, health workers and other frontliners would be vaccinated first on priority basis. However, they have not taken any step to prepare a list of the elderly and adults suffering from long-term diseases — who are most vulnerable to Covid-19.
Dr Habibul Ahsan Talukder, Rajshahi divisional director of Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), said civil surgeons, administrations and local government officials are likely to complete a list comprising health workers within a few days. Then they will prepare another list with other frontliners, including law enforcers and journalists, he added.
They said the government is launching a smartphone app at the end of this month for people to get registered for vaccination.
He said those who are not familiar with using smartphones and the app would get assistance from the government digital service centres.
Meanwhile, this correspondent spoke to at least 20 elderly people and almost all of them expressed willingness to be vaccinated.
“The frontliners deserve to be at the top of the list for vaccination but the elderly should also be given precedence,” said 60-year-old Jalal Uddin Ahmed, a businessman in the city’s Uposhohor area.
“There is no reason to avoid the vaccine. At the same time, the government must ensure that it will not affect our health,” said Mukter Ali (65), a shop owner at Oitijjho Chattrar.
The inoculation programme will be conducted through at least 662 “Covid-19 Vaccine Centres” in eight districts of the division.
They will be set up at three medical college hospitals in Rajshahi, Bogura and Sirajganj; four Combined Military Hospitals in Rajshahi, Bogura and Natore; police hospitals in eight districts; Sadar or general hospitals in seven districts; 67 upazila health complexes, and at 564 unions.
Besides, there will be additional vaccine centres at the offices of civil surgeons in eight districts, and one at Rajshahi City Corporation.
According to the health authorities, they would use the facilities of the Expanded Programme for Immunization (EPI) for storing vaccines.
Upon receiving vaccines from Dhaka, EPI cold storages in the districts will be used for storing those.
However, in two districts — Natore and Chapainawabganj – this facility is not available, so vaccines would be stored at Ice Lined Refrigerators (ILR).
“There would be no space constraint in the cold storages. We have a capacity of providing vaccines to 1.2 lakh people a day,” said the health director.
During a visit to Paba Upazila Health Complex on Wednesday, this correspondent saw an ILR, capable of storing as much as 8,000 vaccine vials, was being prepared for storing Covid-19 vaccines.
Out of two ILRs of the EPI programme in the health complex, one was allocated for Covid-19 vaccines, said medical technician Zahrul Islam.
He said they planned to carry the vaccines from the district cold storages to the health complex in a cooler that can preserve vaccines for 72 hours.
In the health complex, the vaccines will be preserved in the ILR, which is able to store them for a month. The ILR’s temperature is being monitored through a “Fridge-tag 2” machine — between 2 and 8 degree Celsius.
“For Covid-19 vaccines, there will be no vial monitors to show its condition. So we are instructed to closely maintain the cold chain of Covid-19 vaccines,” Zahrul Islam said.
A vaccine vial monitor is a label containing a heat-sensitive material which is placed on a vaccine vial to register cumulative heat exposure over time while a cold chain is a temperature-controlled supply chain.
From the upazila health complex, vaccines will be taken to health centres at different unions in vaccine carriers that are able to store vaccines for 24 hours, Zahrul said. He said they have four staff members to carry those to unions.
A 15-member committee has been formed with health experts for managing incidents of side effects from the vaccines, said health officials.
Headed by the director of Rajshahi Medical College Hospital, the committee is responsible for conducting investigations, monitoring and advising steps in this regard.
The committee members are scheduled to participate in a two-day orientation beginning from January 27. The World Health Organization will conduct the orientation, to be held simultaneously with health experts from three South Asian countries.
While talking to this correspondent, some upazila level health officials expressed their fear about “rumours of side effects” and lack of security at the vaccination centres.
They said the vaccination centres should have tightened security and health officials should be trained on the side effects.
Dr Rabia Basry, upazila health and family planning official of Paba upazila, shared an experience with the measles and rubella vaccination campaign.
She said a child started to have breathing difficulties six days after he was given the MR vaccine. Some villagers spread rumour that the child was suffering from a side effect and they besieged the health complex.
“I was there at the time, and we managed to make the villagers understand that it was not a side effect. But suppose, a health worker present there was not able to provide a proper explanation… the situation could have spiraled out of control. That’s why our health workers need training and security,” she said.
Asked, Director Dr Habibul Ahsan said training for health workers — from civil surgeons to field level staff — on Covid-19 vaccines would be completed by the first week of February.
About security, he said there will be Ansar and Village Defense Party members at the vaccination centres to assist health workers and avert any untoward situation.