Government’s expensive COVID-19 vaccine negotiation failure

Published: 00:00, Jan 14,2021


BANGLADESH pays 47 per cent more, as New Age reported on Tuesday, for the COVID-19 vaccine to the Serum Institute of India — a partner of AstraZeneca, which is licensed to produce the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford — than India does. The Bangladesh government on November 5, 2020 entered into an agreement with the Indian institute through its local vendor Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd on the supply of 30 million doses of the vaccine, five million of which are scheduled to reach Bangladesh, in the first phase, by January 25 for the vaccination campaign to begin in the first week of February. The tripartite agreement — involving the Bangladesh government, the Serum Institute India and its local vendor Beximco Pharmaceuticals — lays out that Bangladesh will pay the Indian institute $4 for each of the doses and $1, to be paid back to Beximco Pharmaceuticals by the Serum Institute, in cost for the cold-chain transport of the vaccine. While Bangladesh pays $4 for a dose of the vaccine, India pays Rs 200, which means $2.72. The increased amount that Bangladesh pays the Serum Institute, in turn, comes down to $38.4 million more for 30 million doses in view of what India pays. Such an agreement has, in plain sight, brought to the fore negotiation failures of Bangladesh and some other issues that Bangladesh has hardly minded in time.

There has, therefore, been a growing concern, in addition to Bangladesh’s failure in adequately negotiating the agreement with the Serum Institute of India and its local vendor Beximco Pharmaceuticals, about probable corruption in the process. Such a proposition appears to have been grounded in a series of corruption and scams that plagued the health sector in 2020 when scams, one after another, sent shock waves across the nation in the most worrying times of COVID-19 emergency. Health rights campaigners in such a situation ask if there has been any undue advantage afforded to any or both of the parties but for the Bangladesh government by way of the agreement for an expensive payment for the vaccine. Bangladesh is also reported not to have assessed prices that the Serum Institute, the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines by volume, offers for other countries. A single-source dependence, as is evident in the process of vaccine procurement and associated problems that made the headlines in the first week of January, has also deprived Bangladesh authorities of any scope to assess if vaccine procurement from other sources could cost less. The government should have put in more thoughts and judiciousness well ahead the time for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.

The government must, therefore, attend to its weakness in negotiation, at least for future procurement. But in the case at hand, while the government must look into if any undue advantage has been afforded to any other parties involved, the government must also adhere to the highest possible transparency in the COVID-19 vaccine procurement and vaccination process — as Transparency International, Bangladesh has also demanded — to check against corruption, confusion and controversy. The health sector must no longer be the vehicle of corruption.

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