DHAKA: Bangladesh began inoculating thousands of Rohingya refugees with China’s Sinopharm vaccine on Tuesday as part of a three-day initiative, officials said.
Around 49,000 Rohingya from 34 refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar district of southern Bangladesh will be vaccinated with the help of UN agencies to curb an uptick in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections across the country.
“Vaccination cards have been distributed to some 49,000 Rohingya aged 55 and above,” Dr. Abu Toha Bhuiyan, a health coordinator at the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission, told Arab News.
“If all the Rohingya are not covered by Thursday, we will continue the program for two more days next week,” he said, adding a similar drive will be conducted next month to administer second doses.
Once targets are met, authorities will focus on vaccinating the next age group “subject to availability of vaccines,” Dr. Bhuiyan said.
With more than 1.1 million Rohingya residing in crowded camps in Cox’s Bazar — the world’s largest refugee settlement — fears have spiked that the area could become an epicenter of the deadly outbreak if anti-virus measures are not urgently imposed.
Over 1.36 million infections and 22,897 deaths have been recorded in Bangladesh in recent weeks, including nearly 12,000 new cases on Monday.
The first COVID-19 case was detected at a Rohingya camp in May last year, with more than 2,662 infections and 28 refugee deaths registered since.
Nearly 4,000 health workers will participate in the three-day vaccination program, with Hannah Macdonald, an external relations officer at the UNHCR, thanking Dhaka for including the Rohingya in its national drive.
“The humanitarian community is extremely grateful to the government of Bangladesh for the inclusion of the Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh in the national vaccination plan. The government has designated 56 vaccination centers in the camps, including primary health care centers and health posts,” she told Arab News.
Health authorities launched the nationwide vaccination drive in early February but had to suspend it for two months due to a shortage of doses. It was resumed with China’s Sinopharm vaccine in June.
Rohingyas have welcomed the move, describing it as a “lifesaving initiative.”
“Every one of us is vulnerable since we live in a highly congested area where maintaining social distance is impossible,” Abdur Rahim, a 59-year-old refugee from the Kutupalong camp, told Arab News.
Others, such as Mohammad Solaiman, 64, from the Balukhali camp, urged authorities “to expand the vaccination program as soon as possible so that our youths in the camps also get vaccinated.”
The government is yet to announce a vaccination schedule for nearly 20,000 refugees relocated to the remote Bhashan Char island, dubbed “Rohingya island,” in the Bay of Bengal, as part of Dhaka’s measures to ease the crowded camps in Cox’s Bazar.
“We have completed all preparations to vaccinate the Rohingya on the island. A list had been prepared and sent to the authorities for a date,” Dr. Masum Iftekhar, civil surgeon of Noakhali District and the top health official in charge of the Rohingya at Bhashan Char, told Arab News.
“We may start the inoculation drive any time soon,” he added.