The world first came to know of an outbreak in Wuhan, China of a possible flu virus that had infected some 40 individuals with a reported link to a ‘wet market’ on New Year’s Eve, 2019. We carried the news in our first issue of the New Year, 2020. Little did we know then how it would come to dominate the news cycle worldwide, and for the entire year. The scale and importance of the pandemic that followed of course can never be overstated, but even more importantly we must note that 2020 will not be taking the virus with it. Instead, it is more than likely that the pandemic will remain at the forefront of the news agenda for much of 2021 as well.
While it is good news that a slew of vaccines continues to be approved and rolled out (including the much-anticipated Oxford vaccine, that UK regulators authorised for use on the penultimate day of the year), the distribution process for such a large-scale vaccination campaign that countries like ours will require is surely set to be a daunting one. Already we have seen some of the earliest countries to get on the vaccination wagon failing to meet their targets for the end of the year.
The Bangladesh government is claiming to have secured enough doses via its pre-order with the Serum Institute of India and the WHO’s Covax facility to vaccinate some 45 million people by June, with the vaccine developed by Oxford University and pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca. That is probably just over a quarter of the population. One cannot stress enough that mere procurement is the easy part done (despite some alarmist reports that rich countries were buying up all the doses). What will make the difference, and where government planners have to prove their mettle really, is in getting ‘shots into arms’, that is to say, how many people actually get injected with the two doses that effective protection entails. The fact that the virus has spread to every district in the country means the vaccination programme cannot be centred in the principal urban centres only.
At the same time, the very current status of the pandemic means you cannot take your time to gradually extend the programme countrywide, as happens with most things (you don’t have to look far for an example, just think back on the testing facilities for COVID-19). That would be not only unfair and discriminatory, it may also mean we will fail to catch up to the virus. The pandemic has been nothing if not a lesson in the value of promptness. Those who acted quickest have generally fared the best. The vaccination drives will be no different, and we must be ready to hit the ground running. Here’s to 2021 being different!