'The wait is over': Bangladesh begins COVID-19 vaccinations

DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh launched a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination drive with the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine on Sunday, aiming to inoculate 3.5 million people in the first month.

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The south Asian country is seeking to inoculate 80% of its population of around 170 million, with each person getting two doses administered four weeks apart.

However the government has nearly halved its target for the first month from 6 million people as only a little over 328,000 people had registered for the vaccine by Saturday.

Bangladesh has received 5 million of the 30 million doses of the COVISHIELD vaccine it has ordered from the Serum Institute of India, which is the world’s biggest vaccine producer and is making the AstraZeneca vaccine. The country has also received 2 million doses of COVISHIELD as a gift from India.

Health Minister Zahid Maleque called COVISHIELD “the best and the safest vaccine”.

“The wait is over. Today is a historic day for us after such a difficult year,” Maleque told Reuters. “I took the vaccine today. I am feeling good. Everyone must take the vaccine,” he said.

He added that 567 coronavirus frontline health workers, who were vaccinated last week before the vaccine programme launch, had not experienced any difficulties or side-effects.

“I appeal to the people not to pay heed to rumours and take the vaccine,” the minister said.

Bangladesh has officially reported 538,062 cases and 8,205 deaths. The daily rate of infections has eased sharply since a peak in July.

Bangladesh will get 68 million doses of vaccine from the GAVI vaccine alliance, the health minister said, referring to a global health partnership set up to increase access to immunisation in poor countries.

Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Frances Kerry