How will Covid-19 vaccine reach the masses?

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File Photo: A woman holds a small bottle labelled as ‘Vaccine Covid-19’ and a medical syringe in this illustration taken on April 10, 2020 Reuters

Researchers are searching for a way to vaccinate such a huge population in a short time

Bangladesh has the capacity to vaccinate less than four million children each year while at least 100 million people need to be vaccinated to shield themselves from Covid-19.

Researchers are searching for a way to vaccinate such a huge population in a short time.

Bangladesh is a tropical country with high temperatures in summer (maximum 40°C). But vaccines need to be stored in cold temperatures (between 2°C to 8°C) during storage, transportation and distribution.

Thus maintaining an unbroken cold chain (a temperature-controlled supply chain) is a challenge for mass vaccination in the country. Even more challenging is reaching rural and remote areas.  

Researchers will assess the current vaccination capacity and mechanism in Bangladesh and will prepare a blueprint to fix a roadmap to provide vaccines to as many as possible.

Supported by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), an international team of researchers led by scientists at the University of Birmingham, and Heriot-Watt University, and their counterpart Bangladeshi academics of Brac University, and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) will assess the capacity and preparedness of Bangladesh’s cold chain framework – creating a roadmap and model for global Covid-19 vaccination.

The team will design novel methods and instruments to assess Bangladesh’s current cold chain capacity – seizing the opportunity to align renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions for mass Covid-19 vaccination and future calamities.

Researchers will assess different intervention scenarios for mass Covid-19 vaccination, providing Bangladesh’s policy makers with critical information and proposals that will help to shape the country’s immunization strategies and priorities.

In Bangladesh, summer temperatures range from 30°C to almost 40°C between March and May. There are frequent floods and tropical storms, and, crucially, a lack of sustainable cooling infrastructure and resilient electricity in rural communities.

The vaccine for Covid-19 needs to be stored between 2°C and 8°C, local experts have said.

‘Will take decades with existing distribution set up’

Energy and Environment specialist Prof Ijaz Hossain, dean of engineering at Buet, talking to Dhaka Tribune, said: “Bangladesh has the capacity to give vaccines to four million children every year. On the other hand, if we want to achieve herd immunity against Covid-19, we need to vaccinate at least half of the population, which means 100 million people need to be vaccinated.

“It will take decades with our existing distribution set-up. We will get the number of doses we need but we need to vaccinate 100 million people in a short time; this is the challenge.”

“How do we meet this challenge? Refrigeration needs to be maintained at every stage [storage, transportation, distribution]. Many remote areas do not have a constant supply of electricity. Without 10-12 hours of power, the vaccine will be damaged. So we need to maintain a cold temperature throughout the time,” he said.

“If we want to give vaccines in one year, we need a model that will tell us which age group or which community, or which areas have to be prioritized. To vaccinate at least half of the population is our target,” he said. 

“Brac University will work first. They will study and review existing capacity and mechanisms of vaccination in the country. From November-December we will work on cold-chain, infrastructure, and mechanism of distribution, including remote areas,” he said.

‘Help create blueprint for efficient delivery’

When contacted, project developer Toby Peters, professor of Cold Economy at the University of Birmingham, said: “Bangladesh is confronted with a difficult challenge of protecting their people and sustaining the economy. Rapid and efficient mass vaccination is the only way forward, making our upcoming work critical – not just for Bangladesh, but many other countries across the Global South.”

“Sustainable cold chain development will support Bangladesh’s economy and help to support existing immunization and cold chain programs as well as a Covid-19 vaccine. More importantly, this work will help create a blueprint and model for an efficient delivery mechanism to ensure that the vaccine will be provided globally.”

The research team will also make its findings available to other countries in order to help public health planners evaluate their best options for creating sustainable temperature-controlled supply-chains for health and medical supplies in epidemics and natural disasters.

Dr Md Habibur Rahman, director (MIS) of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), said: “We have to vaccinate a huge population to protect them from Covid-19. Regarding how many people need to be vaccinated and what the mechanism would be, the DGHS is working on it.”

“Currently we give vaccines to almost four million children,” he said.

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