Beximco seeks govt initiative to import vaccines from India

Beximco Pharmaceuticals has failed to deliver coronavirus vaccines to the government in time.

It has sent a letter to the health ministry requesting the government to take an initiative importing vaccines from India.

A letter signed by Rabbur Reza, chief operating officer of Beximco, was sent to the deputy secretary of the Health Services Division on Monday.

The letter said, “It is imperative for the government of Bangladesh to make a request to India for more sincerity in approving the export of coronavirus vaccines to Bangladesh.”

Copies of this letter have also been sent to principal secretary of the prime minister and Indian high commissioner in Bangladesh.

Confirming about the letter, Beximco Pharmaceuticals’ managing director Nazmul Hasan told Prothom Alo, “We are trying to bring the vaccines on our part. It would be great if the government tries too.”

The Beximco Pharmaceuticals sent this letter to the government in such a time when the vaccination drive for the first and second dose is going on simultaneously.

The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) has already administered the first dose of coronavirus vaccine to more than 5.7 million (57 lakh) people.

Besides, more than 1.6 million (16 lakh) people have taken the second dose of the vaccine. The DGHS do not have enough vaccines to provide the people, who have taken the first dose, with the second dose. There are less than 3 million (30 lakh) vaccines in the stock of DGHS at present.

DGHS director general prof Abul Bashar Mohammed Khurshid Alam told Prothom Alo on Monday that DGHS issued letters to Beximco and Serum Institute in India. The Serum Institute replied that all the Bangladesh-bound vaccines are ready to be imported. They are waiting for the approval of the Indian government.

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It is assumed that after the letter from Beximco getting vaccines from India has become uncertain.

However, two days ago, DGHS additional director general Meerjady Sabrina Flora told Prothom Alo, "Efforts are being made at the highest level of the government for the vaccine."

When asked about this, a senior official from the foreign ministry told Prothom Alo Tuesday night that Bangladesh is continuously contacting India, so that the Serum Institute delivers the vaccine to Bangladesh as per the agreement.

There is a tripartite agreement among the government, Serum Institute and Beximco. According to the tripartite agreement, the Serum Institute will supply 30 million (3 crore) doses of “Covishield” vaccine. Serum Institute would deliver 30 million doses in six months. Beximco supplied 5 million of vaccine doses in January and two million in February. Apart from that, Bangladesh got 3.3 million (33 lakh) doses of coronavirus vaccine from India as a gift. But the news flashed on the global media about the ban of Indian government on exporting coronavirus vaccine. The uncertainty about getting the vaccine from India started after this.

Beximco said in a letter on Sunday that they are constantly contacting with the Serum Institute and reminding them about the delivery. But every time the authorities of the institute have replied that they are not getting the government’s (Indian) approval for exporting shots to foreign country. Beximco has learned that the only reason for this unintended delay is not the laxity of production capacity, but the disapproval of exports by the government of India.

More sources of getting jabs

Foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen issued a letter to the health secretary Lokman Hossain Miah on 12 April saying that Bangladesh's ambassador to Russia had been asked to discuss immediately as to the import, production and the use of the Russian Covid-19 vaccine ‘Sputnik-V’ in Bangladesh.

In that context, the Russian ambassador has wanted to know some things, which include the amount of covid-19 vaccines needed for Bangladesh in both for short and long terms, a list of government ministries, agencies, or third parties through which vaccines to be imported, and a list of companies capable of producing vaccines in Bangladesh.

Then on 13 April, the Health Service Division has sent a letter to the Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA) asking for this information. On the same day, the director general of DGDA sent the names of various organisations regarding import, production and use in Bangladesh.

According to DGDA, Bangladesh needs about 30 million doses in the short term and 140 million doses in the long term. They said, country’s Health Service Division, Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), EPI, CMSD, and DGDA are able to import the shots.

Meanwhile, the first meeting of the seven-member committee, formed to examine the proposals received from various sources for collecting and preserving the Covid-19 vaccine, is scheduled to be held on Wednesday.

This committee will scrutinise the vaccine proposals received from various sources and give specific views. In addition, the committee will analyse and recommend subsequently about the abilities of vaccine suppliers, information on the country which uses the vaccine, and the organisation's proposal to purchase the jabs.

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According to the DGHS, along with China and Russia, the government has already made efforts to get the vaccines from other sources. Among them, COVAX facility will provide 100,610 jabs to Bangladesh free of cost. On the other, China’s Sinopharm International Corporation has said they will present 500,000 vaccines to Bangladesh.

The mass vaccination programme in the country started on February 7. Initially, India had gifted two million doses to Bangladesh. Later, the country purchased vaccines from India through a tripartite agreement.

Professor Sayedur Rahman, chairman of the Pharmacology department of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), told Prothom Alo that the government should make strong diplomatic efforts to collect vaccines. Government will have to collect the second doses for those who took the first one. Apart from this, initiatives should be taken to produce vaccines locally through using technology transfer process.

*This article appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu and NH Sajjad.

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