Vaccine uncertainty drags on in Bangladesh

Govt trying to get any of four vaccines

Diplomatic Correspondent | Published: 23:38, May 05,2021 | Updated: 23:54, May 05,2021


Uncertainty about getting supply of Covid vaccine has continued in the country as India has suggested that Bangladesh should wait after it requested the neighbouring country to supply 30 lakh doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on an urgent basis.

‘We have asked India to deliver at least three million doses of the vaccine to address the shortage here so that we can give the second dose to people who have already taken the first dose of the vaccine. But they suggested that we should keep our fingers crossed,’ foreign minister AK Abdul Momen said on Wednesday.

The government had to suddenly suspend on April 30 the registration for vaccination amid uncertainty about getting supply of the vaccine developed by University of Oxford and drug maker AstraZeneca and manufactured by Serum Institute of India under the brand name of Covishield from India and vaccines of other countries.

Serum is supposed to supply 3 crore doses of the vaccine — 50 lakh doses a month — to Bangladesh by June under a purchase deal but the company has supplied only 70 lakh doses, suspending shipments after February.

‘Five lakh doses of Chinese Sinopharm vaccine are likely to arrive on May 12 and beyond that, I have no confirmation on getting vaccines from other countries,’ said the minister.

The government has decided to step up efforts for getting supplies of any of four types of vaccines — Oxford-AstraZeneca, Sputnik V, Sinopharm and Moderna  — through source diversification, including import through government-to-government mechanism and private vendors and creation of scopes for local production at home, according to foreign ministry officials.

Bangladesh embassies in the US, the UK, Australia, Thailand, South Korea and in some European countries contacted their respective host governments to get the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from their unused stocks, diplomats said.

Except the US and the UK, the other European countries have poor stocks  to deliver the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine ranging from 20,000 to 2 lakh doses which are unviable for Bangladesh to collect compared with its huge need, said the minister.

The need of Bangladesh is under the considerations of the US and the UK but their priority is to meet the need of India and Brazil due to dire pandemic situations in the two countries, the minister said.

Apart from the AstraZeneca vaccine, Bangladesh also sought to procure Moderna vaccine from the US, a diplomat said, adding that it is highly unlikely that Moderna vaccine could be brought to the country soon.

The US ambassador in Dhaka is likely to appraise the foreign ministry on the matter in a day or two, he added. 

The government would send an aircraft to China on May 11 to bring 5 lakh doses of Sinopharm vaccine which the country would provide to Bangladesh as a gift.

Bangladesh has also expressed intent to China to procure 20 lakh doses of Sinopharm vaccine from the country with potentials to increase the amount depending on the need, said a diplomat.

The government is likely to write to the Russian authorities in a day or two making counter-proposals in a reply to a draft agreement sent by Russia on exporting Sputnik V vaccine to Bangladesh, the foreign minister said.

For getting scopes for coproduction of the vaccine, Bangladesh has signed an agreement with Russia to maintain confidentiality, he said, adding that the health ministry has examined the Russian proposals and the ministry requires some specific provisions on pricing and safeguards in the agreement.

Bangladesh is also supposed to get vaccines under COVAX mechanism of the World Health Organisation but they could not deliver for shortage of supply from Serum of India, he added.

As there is still a possibility of getting late supplies of the Oxford-AstraZeneca from Serum Institute of India, the government is cautious in confirming procurement of a large quantity of vaccines from other sources to avoid over-flooding of vaccines with short shelf lives, said a government official.

The government also requires looking into factors relating to health risks of people and issues relating to price and other conditions with the supply side, said Momen.

To meet the huge need, Bangladesh would require going for coproduction of vaccines in the country but it would take time, he added.

Bangladesh has suspended the inoculation of the first dose since April 26 due to the shortage of vaccine doses.

Beginning on February 7, the country has so far inoculated 89.25 lakh people, including 58.19 lakh with the first dose and 31.06 lakh with both doses, during the mass vaccination drive.

The country now has a shortage of about 14.85 lakh doses to ensure second dose administration to people who have already taken the first dose.

The government has continued inoculation of the first dose to some people, who missed the schedule despite receiving mobile messages for getting the jab due to emergency situations like health complications.

Since April 26, at least 1,357 such people have taken the first dose, according to the Expanded Programme of Immunisation.

Bangladesh secured 1.02 crore doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, 70 lakh from Serum Institute of India and 32 lakh from the Indian government as a gift.

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