Data shows Bangladesh's average COVID vaccination rate among lowest in South Asia

A Bangladeshi expatriate receives a dose of the COVID vaccine at Dhaka’s Suhrawardy Hospital on Wednesday, July 28, 2021. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove
Bangladesh’s pace of administering the COVID-19 vaccine is well below the rate needed to ensure that 40 percent of citizens receive both doses by the end of the year.

It is also significantly lower than the rate needed to vaccinate 60 percent of the population by mid-2022, according to data from the Task Force on COVID-19 Vaccines, Therapeutics and Diagnostics for Developing Countries, a group formed by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank Group, the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization.

Data from a new website launched by the Task Force on Friday, showed that Bangladesh’s weekly average vaccination rate was 0.11 per 100 people.

Bangladesh’s average vaccination rate was among the lowest in South Asia. Pakistan’s vaccination rate was 0.19 per 100 people, India’s was 0.31, Nepal’s 0.33, and Sri Lanka’s 1.63. Only Afghanistan, at 0.05 per 100, Bhutan, at 0.04, and the Maldives, at 0.08, had lower vaccination rates in the region. However, both Bhutan and the Maldives have vaccinated large portions of their population already.

In order to vaccinate 40 percent of the population by the end of the year, Bangladesh would need a daily vaccination rate of 0.49 per 100 people, according to the Task Force. To achieve 60 percent vaccination by mid-2022, Bangladesh would need a daily vaccination rate of 0.35 per 100 people.

Bangladesh, with a population of 164.7 million people, needs 131.8 million doses to vaccinate 40 percent of its population and 197.6 million doses to vaccinate 60 percent of its population. It has, by the website’s estimate, pre-purchased 158.1 million doses and has had 25.8 million doses delivered.

The Task Force estimates that, based on current delivery schedules and agreements, Bangladesh would be able to vaccinate 19.64 percent of the population by the end of this year.

The government has said it plans to vaccinate 80 percent of the country’s population, or 140 million people.

As of Jul 25, Bangladesh has administered 7.56 million first doses of the vaccine and 4.3 million second doses, according to a separate WHO report.

“We reiterate the urgency of providing access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments to people throughout the developing world,” the Task Force said in a statement.

“In the area of vaccines, a key constraint is the acute and alarming shortage in the supply of doses to low and low-middle income countries, especially for the rest of 2021. We call on countries with advanced COVID-19 vaccination programs to release as soon as possible as much of their contracted vaccine doses and options as possible to COVAX, AVAT, and low and low-middle income countries.”

The Task Force expressed concern about the slow speed of vaccine purchase contracts and deliveries to low-income countries.

“Less than 5 percent of vaccine doses that were pre-purchased by or for low-income countries have been delivered. Our common target is for at least 40 percent of people in low and low-middle income countries to be vaccinated by the end of 2021. We estimate that less than 20 percent of the necessary vaccines are currently scheduled for delivery to these countries, whether through COVAX, AVAT, or bilateral deals and dose-sharing agreements.”

The Task Force urged COVID vaccine manufacturers to scale up production of vaccines for these countries and to supply them rather than promote boosters and other activities.

Bangladesh started its mass vaccination campaign in February, using the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and Anglo-Swedish company AstraZeneca, bought under an agreement with the Serum Institute of India.

But the agreement for the doses fell through after the pandemic situation in India worsened dramatically and put a halt to vaccine exports.

The inoculation drive resumed after the government received consignments of Sinopharm vaccine from China, and Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines under COVAX.

The second phase of the mass inoculation programme with the Sinopharm doses began at 67 centres across the country on Saturday. China sent 1.1 million shots as gift on May 12 and Jun 13.

The government has an agreement with the Chinese company to buy 30 million doses of the vaccine, with seven million doses reaching the country in July.

The government also received 100,620 Pfizer and 5.5 million Moderna doses under the global COVID vaccine-sharing platform co-led by the World Health Organization.

Another 245,200 Oxford-AstraZeneca doses arrived from Japan on Jul 24, which will be administered to those who got the first dose of the Oxford vaccine but missed the second one due to a shortage.

Bangladesh is expecting big consignments totalling 12.9 million vaccine doses in August as well, including 1.29 million AstraZeneca shots, 4 million of Sinopharm and 6 million of Johnson & Johnson, according to Health Minister Zahid Maleque.