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Private sector partnership vital for speedy access to vaccine: Experts

Health experts at a virtual dialogue on Sunday suggested allowing the private sector to import coronavirus vaccine alongside the government under a strong regulatory mechanism for immunising a larger number of people within a short time.

They also advocated for conducting a mass rapid test to identify eligible people for the vaccination at the initial stage and make the priority list of the vaccine recipients properly.

Besides, the experts recommended strengthening the monitoring system to assess the side-effects and the efficacy of the vaccine after the immunisation.

Citizens’ Platform for SDGs, a platform of 104 civil society organisations, arranged the dialogue titled “Access to Covid-19 vaccine in Bangladesh; who when and how?’ moderated by its convener Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya.

Speaking at the programme, former health minister Dr AFM Ruhal Haque said, “I think there would be a serious pressure from the private sector to allow them to buy the vaccine. … there’s no reason to deny them permission to do so.”

He said if the private sector brings the vaccine, the wealthy people and those who have the ability can receive it without any hassle.

“It’ll also help reduce pressure on the government a bit regarding the vaccine distribution. But the government must have a regulation mechanism so that no company can import an ineffective vaccine and make a huge profit,” Ruhal Haque said.

He said many people in the country have got infected with the virus, but they are not aware of it. “So, I think we need to go for antibody tests to identify those who need not the vaccine at the initial stage. If we can do it, we’ll be able to drop many people from the initial vaccination and avoid many problems.”

About the required huge fund for vaccine procurement, he said if the health ministry can take proper steps for importing the vaccine, there would be no crisis of fund since the Prime Minister herself is monitoring the overall activities.

Ruhal Haque said a new strain of Covid-19 is now rapidly spreading in various countries, especially the UK. “If we can’t take proper steps to prevent this strain, our battle against the virus will be weakened. Many people are coming from abroad without tests and proper screening. We need to give importance to it.”

Prof Dr Rashid-E-Mahbub, chairman of the National Committee on Health Rights Movement, feared that there will be chaos and evil practice over the vaccine distribution as the powerful and rich people may want to get it first manipulating the system. “I think the poor and marginalised people will not have adequate access to the vaccine, no matter what policy and plan the government makes.”

Echoing Ruhal Haque, he also said the government should allow the private sector and eligible pharmaceutical companies to procure vaccine under a strong regulatory mechanism system.

“It may give the powerful and rich people an option to have the vaccine without indulging in malpractice. Our government is also not in a position to ensure the vaccine for all with its own initiative. So, the private sector should be given permission to buy the vaccine,” he added.

Dr Rashid said the government is apparently giving much focus on making policies and plans regarding the coronavirus vaccine. “I think it should also think about the storage and logistic supports for the preservation, transportation and distribution of the vaccine.”

Dr Bijon Kumar Sil, former Gonoshasthaya Kendra virology scientist who joined the programme from Singapore, said the government must identify first who are eligible for receiving the vaccine.

“Those who have antibody or recover from the diseases or already infected with the virus are not eligible for the vaccine.”

He said only those who do not have antibody will have to be given the vaccine. “So, the mass rapid test is now important to identify the people having antibody.”

Vaccine Efficacy

Besides, Dr Bijon said, at least five years is required to say a human vaccine is good or bad or identify its side-effects. “So, there could have some side-effects of the virus after the vaccination. But we should receive the vaccine.”

He said a strong monitoring team must be there in place to examine whether the vaccine is working after the immunization and identify its side-effect.

He said the government did not consider the RMG and pharmaceutical industries in its vaccine priority list. “People who work in the two sectors are vulnerable to the corona infection and they should be immunised in the first phase.”

Dr Firdausi Qadri, an emeritus scientist of infectious disease division at icddr,b, said it takes at least 10 years to have a safe, effective and nonhazardous vaccine. “But the Covid-vaccine has been developed by only 10 months. So, we’re not sure about the safety of his vaccine.”

She said the government must include the immunisation monitoring in the national corona vaccine policy.

Dr Mushtaque Chowdhury, convener of the Bangladesh Health Watch, said over-dependence on yet-to-be-approved Oxford vaccine may pose a threat to start the vaccination process as planned by the government. “We should keep in touch with all the potential vaccine developing countries, including China and Russia.”

Source: United News of Bangladesh