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Rohingya refugees anxious over Bangladesh vaccination drive

Residents of refugee camps fear the inoculation campaign will not cover them

Rohingya refugees anxious over Bangladesh vaccination drive

Rohingya refugee entering Bangladesh from Myanmar on Sept. 13, 2017. Many Rohingya are worried they will not get vaccinated against Covid-19. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)

Thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are worried that a free government Covid-19 vaccination campaign will not cover them all, say aid workers.

The government started an inoculation drive using China’s Sinopharm vaccine among the Rohingya community in Cox’s Bazar on Aug. 10.

Rohingya refugees eligible for vaccination in the first cohort include some 48,000 individuals over 55 years of age, according to the Refugee Health Unit of the state-run Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC).

“We have completed vaccinating 75 percent of this cohort out of about 48,000 Rohingya as of Aug. 17. Those who are left out will be given the vaccine next week,” said Dr. Md Sarwar Jahan, assistant health coordinator of the RRRC.

“We have now vaccinated those who are above 55 years of age. When the Bangladesh government delivers vaccine again and if there is no shortage, then maybe the age limit will be lowered. No decision on the next step has been made yet.”

Aid workers working in the Rohingya camps claim many refugees are worried that they may not get vaccines.

If the government does not vaccinate us, everyone will be infected and then there will be an epidemic

“It is good that the government has vaccinated the Rohingya but on the other hand Rohingya think that the Bangladesh government will not be able to vaccinate the whole Rohingya community and many will not be vaccinated,” Sultana Akhter, from Mukti (Freedom), a local NGO working in Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, told UCA News.

“If the government fails to continue this vaccination program, there will be mistrust among the Rohingya. They constantly come to us and ask when they will be vaccinated.” 

Abdul Ali, 57, a resident of Kutupalong camp, was not registered for the vaccination.

"I have heard that people over 55 will be vaccinated. They told me it will not happen now but they will vaccinate me later," Ali told UCA News.

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“We have more than six people living in one room. If the government does not vaccinate us, everyone will be infected and then there will be an epidemic. Since the government has started giving us vaccines, I hope all of us will be vaccinated quickly.” 

Emmanuel Chayan Biswas, spokesman for Caritas Bangladesh's emergency response program, said: "We are happy that the Rohingya are being vaccinated and the government has taken this initiative.

“I can't say how fast it is possible to vaccinate all of them. I hope the Bangladesh government will vaccinate the Rohingya on a priority basis, otherwise we who work in the camps will not be able to go there. We will not be able to work.” 

More than 740,000 Rohingya from Myanmar's Rakhine state fled to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017 and now live in dozens of overcrowded refugee camps, surviving on aid from charities and the government. They joined 300,000 Rohingya who were already in the country having fled earlier bouts of violence in Myanmar.

Bangladesh is battling a third wave of Covid-19 with a total of 1.43 million cases and 24,547 deaths as of Aug. 18, according to government data. About 21.4 million doses of vaccine have been distributed and 5.69 million people or about 3.5 percent of the country's more than 160 million people have been fully vaccinated.

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