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Bangladesh Authorities Have Begun Vaccinating Rohingya Refugees

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today, authorities began distributing coronavirus vaccines to more than a million Rohingya refugees who spent years crowded in camps in southern Bangladesh after fleeing a military crackdown in Myanmar. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from Mumbai.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORN BEEPING)

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: An auto rickshaw with a huge megaphone strapped on the roof has been driving around the world's largest refugee settlement, blasting messages about COVID-19 vaccinations. The task is urgent. Bangladesh has in recent weeks confirmed its highest daily tallies of new coronavirus cases and of deaths. This wave has been fueled by the delta variant, says microbiologist Dr. Senjuti Saha.

SENJUTI SAHA: There has been a very rapid turnover of this variant of concern. And everything we're sequencing is turning out to be delta.

FRAYER: Aid workers have long warned of a humanitarian catastrophe if more transmissible variants were to sweep through crowded refugee camps. Health officials say they hope to vaccinate nearly 50,000 Rohingya this week. The World Health Organization commended Bangladesh today for including Rohingya in its vaccination campaign. Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh is a regional director for the WHO, and she tweeted this message.

POONAM KHETRAPAL SINGH: Bangladesh is demonstrating what WHO has been advocating - equitable access to vaccines.

FRAYER: Vaccinations were actually delayed this spring in Bangladesh, when the country's main supplier, India, halted exports. The U.S. and China have since sent supplies, but still, less than 5% of people in Bangladesh have been fully vaccinated. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Mumbai.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOLLOWED BY GHOSTS' "A NEW DAWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.

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