Bangladesh Begins Vaccinating Teens against COVID-19

Pulack Ghatack
Dhaka
2021-11-01
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Bangladesh Begins Vaccinating Teens against COVID-19 A student receives a COVID-19 vaccine at the Motijheel Ideal School and College center in Dhaka, Nov. 1, 2021.
Sabrina Yesmin/BenarNews

Bangladesh on Monday began mass vaccinations of students ages 12 to 17, with a target of delivering Pfizer shots furnished by COVAX to 10 million teenagers nationwide.

But the requirement to store the Pfizer vaccine at sub-freezing temperatures may hamper the campaign in rural areas, authorities said.

“Seven more centers in Dhaka will be added in the drive for mass vaccination of students on Tuesday. We have issued an official order to set up 10 booths in each of the schools,” Md. Shahedul Khabir Chowdhury, administrative director of the Department of Secondary and Higher Education, told BenarNews.

Education Minister Dipu Moni and Health Minister Zahid Maleque, joined by U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh Earl Miller, kicked off the inoculation drive at Motijheel Ideal School and College in the capital city.

Two Bangladesh ninth-graders – Tahsan Hossain and Mehjabin Toma – received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech which has been approved by the World Health Organization for use by children, according to officials.

“I was a bit scared at first, but now there is no problem. I think students my age should be vaccinated without fear,” Tahsan told BenarNews.

Mehjabin echoed Tahsan.

“It was easy to register through the website and I am glad to become the first one to receive this shot,” Mehjabin said.

Mofazzal Hossain, the school’s assistant head master, said 2,000 students were vaccinated between 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Additionally, 1,074 students attending the Government SK Girls High School in Manikganj also received vaccinations.

Centers have been set up in eight schools in Dhaka with an initial target of vaccinating 5,000 students daily in each center. In the first phase, the government is “aiming at inoculating 3 million students,” Health Minister Zahid said.

“Students who are going to appear for the Secondary School Certificate examination in November will get priority in this inoculation drive,” Dipu said, referring to the exam students take before they move on to higher secondary school. 

“Full-scale academic activities will resume soon after the successful completion of vaccination of all students across the country,” she said.

Bangladesh postponed all in-school activities in March 2020 following the COVID-19 pandemic’s first infections. Limited in-person classes resumed in September.

‘Commendable step’

The chairman of the Health and Hope Hospital in Dhaka welcomed the drive.

“It is a commendable step,” M.H. Choudhury Lelin told BenarNews.

“In addition to children, people who are at risk of death should also be vaccinated. At the same time, there is a need to develop techniques for vaccinating [students in] schools in remote areas.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the Pfizer vaccine is shipped at a temperature between minus-60 and minus-80 degrees centigrade (minus-76 and minus-112 degrees Fahrenheit).

 “Pfizer vaccine is mostly used for children in many countries, but the temperature at which it is needed to be stored is a concern. It will be difficult to carry, store and administer Pfizer vaccine in the cities outside Dhaka,” he said.

“So along with Pfizer, alternatives should be thought about.”

Children younger than 12 would not receive vaccinations until the World Health Organization (WHO) approves it, according to Zahid.

“So far, we have received 9.6 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Of this, 1.4 million doses have been administered and the remaining 8.2 million doses will be given to the students,” he said.

WHO has said it will provide Pfizer and Moderna vaccines through its COVAX initiative to vaccinate children at the district and sub-district levels, the minister said, adding about 30 million doses would be needed.

This number includes jabs for the 10 million students between the age of 12 and 17, and for younger children once WHO approves shots for them.

Nearly 61 million vaccine doses have been administered in Bangladesh and 20.6 million people or 12.5 percent of the 170 million population, have been fully vaccinated.

Bangladesh has recorded more than 1.6 million infections and more than 27,800 deaths including just two in the previous 24 hours, the fewest in about 18 months, according to health officials.

Globally, COVID-19-related deaths topped 5 million Monday, according to disease experts at the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

Indonesia approves Sinovac for 6- to 11-year-olds

Elsewhere in Asia, Indonesia approved emergency use of China’s Sinovac vaccine for children ages 6 to 11.

The Food and Drug Supervisory Agency (BPOM) chief Penny Lukito said the Chinese vaccine is safe for children, based on the result of clinical trials, but did not say when the shots would be given.

“So, the immunogenicity shows a fairly high percentage, 96.5 percent,” she said, referring to the measure of immune responses the vaccine generates.

“This is the first vaccine registered at BPOM for children 6 to 11 years old and hopefully it won’t be long before many more vaccines will be registered for children so that more will be vaccinated,” Penny said, adding that more safety data is needed from Sinovac on giving the jab to children younger than 6.

Indonesia has targeted vaccinating 70 percent of the population, or 208 million people to reach herd immunity.

So far, 120 million people have received the first dose of vaccination including 74 million who are fully vaccinated and 1.1 million who have received booster doses.

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