Bangladesh's government and aid agencies started vaccinating Rohingya refugees Tuesday as a virus surge raises health risks in the sprawling, cramped camps where more than 1 million people who fled Myanmar are sheltering.
The highly transmissible delta variant is driving an infection surge across Bangladesh, with around 20,000 infections and 200 deaths recorded so far in Cox’s Bazar district, the southern region bordering Myanmar where the refugee camps are located.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said a national positivity rate of around 30% indicates the spread of COVID-19 is much higher, especially with cramped conditions and the risks faced by many people living in the refugee camps.
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar in 2017 as a harsh military crackdown was waged against the ethnic group following an attack by insurgents. Other Rohingya have lived in refugee camps in Bangladesh following earlier waves of persecution.
The government’s Civil Surgeon’s office in Cox’s Bazar and aid agencies began the vaccination campaign across 34 camps alongside Bangladesh's national vaccination effort.
About 500 Bangladesh Red Crescent staff and volunteers joined the health workers for the campaign in collaboration with the U.N. refugee agency, according to a statement from the international body.
Rohingya community leaders, front-line health care volunteers in the camps, and Rohingya older than 55 are in the first group to be vaccinated. Over 65,000 refugees will be vaccinated in the first cohort, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in an email to The Associated Press.
Bangladesh has reported more than 1.3 million infections, including 22,897 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Less than 5% population of the country’s 160 million people are fully vaccinated.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press.