16m vaccine seekers are still waiting their turn

Many who have registered for the COVID-19 vaccine have not received an SMS from the Directorate General of Health Services confirming their vaccination date, causing worry.

Several say they registered on the Surokkha website weeks or even months ago, but have not been given an appointment for their shots.

Online registration for the COVID-19 vaccine began on Jan 26. As of Saturday, more than 54.79 million people have registered to get a vaccine, according to the DGHS.

As many as 38.83 million have received the first dose, but nearly 16 million are still waiting to be called.

Some vaccination centres are overwhelmed with the number registered and so it is taking time for them to confirm dates for vaccine seekers, the DGHS said, adding that the agency is working to resolve the issue.

Sifat Aliya and her mother Nazneen Selim registered for the vaccine on Aug 3 at the Dhaka Dental College vaccination centre. They have not received a date for their shots, Sifat said.

“It is likely the coronavirus infection cases will surge again, (as people are not following the rules). Once it starts to spread, those without the vaccine will be more vulnerable. That’s why we wanted to take the shot. To ensure our protection.”

“It shouldn’t take this long, as there’s no shortage now. They should at least inform us why we’re not getting the vaccine,” she said.

Iqbal Shahriar and his wife had registered to get a vaccine on Aug 8 and they received the SMS confirming their dates on Oct 18, two months and eight days after they registered.

Iqbal already had the coronavirus and was seeking the vaccine to protect himself from getting it again, he said.

“They lifted the lockdown and my work at the office is in full swing. It poses a great risk for us if we don’t get the vaccine. But we didn’t receive the SMS for over nine weeks. I couldn’t figure out when we would get the shot, even after visiting the Surokkha website. But we finally got the SMS today.”

Delowar Mridha, a caretaker of a residential building in Rajabazar, registered on Aug 10 and chose the National Institute of Neurosciences & Hospital as his vaccination centre. He has yet to receive an SMS.

“The government has urged everyone to get the vaccine. I thought it would be safe to get the shots and registered. But two months have passed and I still haven’t received the SMS,” he said.

Ishtiaq Zadid, living in Chattogram’s Patiya, signed up for the vaccine on Sept 8, but has yet to get the SMS.

“It’s taking too long. I find it bizarre. I check my SMS regularly. I get so many of them from the government all the time. But the one confirming the vaccination date has yet to show,” he said.

The DGHS can currently administer 600,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine a day, but the figure can be raised further, said Prof Meerjady Sabrina Flora, additional director general of DGHS.

More than 15 million people are still waiting to receive the shot, she said.

People register for the COVID-19 vaccines on a regular basis and some receive the SMS and get vaccinated, said Prof Flora, who is also the head of the National Vaccine Deployment Committee. 

“Some people have received the SMS but have not shown up to get the shot. And many others, a significant portion of the 15 million, are still waiting for the SMS.”

The delay in getting the SMS depends on the workload of the vaccination centre a person chooses, said Prof Flora.

“Some vaccination centres have a large number of people registering with them. In that case, there’s a delay in sending the SMS. In some centres, however, the SMS is sent to the vaccine seeker the day after they register.”

Prof Flora said the vaccine centres outside Dhaka do not have a large number of people waiting for the SMS.

The DGHS is working to increase the number of vaccination centres and booths to address the problem, she said. “We’re working to vaccinate more people as fast as possible.”

Following registration, all information is stored on the servers of the Surokkha website, the DGHS says.

All the vaccination centres have access to it with a user ID and password. The DGHS staff who are part of the vaccination programme follow it and send out the SMS.