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As the government’s battles against the coronavirus pandemic, uncertainty has emerged over the availability of Covid-19 vaccine. Its stock is also running out fast. According to the Covid-19 Vaccine Preparedness and Deployment Core Committee, the existing stock of vaccines will run out by 15 May. The health ministry hasn’t been clarifying as yet whether vaccines will arrive from India before the stock runs out or how many vaccines will arrive.

As a result, uncertainly looms large over getting the second jab for those who already received their first. Amid these circumstances, if adequate vaccine doses are not imported urgently from alternative sources, an “unstable situation” will arise in the country, according to the members of the government’s high-level core committee. They don’t also see any quick likelihood of receiving vaccines from other sources including China and Russia despite diplomatic efforts.

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The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) has received 1.3 million shots from India. They still have a little over 2.55 million (25.53 lakh) shots at their stock.

According to the sources at the Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA), usually Bangladesh use the certification of seven developed countries -- United States, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany, France, Japan, and Australia – and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to import medicine. Since the ‘Sputnik-V’ vaccine developed by Russian and the ‘Sinopharm’ and ‘Sinovac’ vaccines developed by China don’t meet the EMA criteria, the government will be required to change to its policy to import vaccines from these two countries.

The members of the core committee, at a virtual meeting on Wednesday, opined that Bangladesh should not consider importing the Sinovac vaccine. Besides, making a change to the policy to import medicine from a specific country is not an easy task. However, a senior official of the Health Service Division said since the vaccine stock is running out fast, the health minister has instructed to import the vaccine and make changes to the policy, if necessary.

According to the Health Service Division, the government has a plan to vaccinate 80 per cent of population. For this reason, 15 million (1.5 crore) vaccine does developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca and manufactured by Serum Institute of India have been purchased in the first phase. Besides, COVAX, the global initiative for Covid-19 vaccines, will provide another 34 million (3.4 crore) shots. But Bangladesh needs 130 million (13 core) doses.

Sources at the DGDA said additional director general of DGHS Meerjady Sabrina Flora told the Wednesday’s meeting that a decision will have to be taken quickly regarding from which source import of adequate vaccine shots will be possible within the shortest possible time. Otherwise, an unstable situation will arise. At the meeting, joint secretary of Health Service Division SM Alamgir Hossain spoke against procuring the Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine. The meeting also discussed the vaccine developed by Moderna. Since this vaccine is required to be preserved at a temperature of minus 20 degree Celsius, it will be very challenging in the Bangladesh context, the meeting observed.

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Director general of DGDA major general Mahbubur Rahman presided over the meeting of the core committee.

A source at the DGDA said the director general told the meeting that it needs to see whether those who are showing interest to import vaccines have any deed of agreement with the manufacturing companies. How many doses they can import in how much time, will have to be clarified. And the effectiveness of China’s Sinovac vaccine is the lowest, he said.

Line director of DGHS Md Shamsul Haque presented the proposals received on the import of vaccines at the meeting. Drug manufacturers Reneta Limited and Al-Madina Pharmaceuticals proposed to import vaccines of Serum Institutes of India (USD4 a dose, effectiveness 81.3 per cent), Johnson & Johnson of the USA (USD9-10 a dose, effectiveness 66-72 per cent) and Russia’s Sputnik-V (USD10-27 a dose, effectiveness 91.6 per cent).

Bangladesh Private Clinic Owners Association and Trix Trading proposed to import vaccines of China’s Sinovac (USD5-33 a dose, effectiveness 50.4 per cent and Sinopharm (USD19-40 a dose, effectiveness 79 per cent).

Besides, Renata Limited applied directly to the health ministry seeking clearance to import the vaccine developed by Mordena of the USA.

A member of the core committee, on condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo the government must select at least two vaccines immediately. Right now, ensuring the procurement of the vaccine is urgent. All-out efforts will have to be made to obtain vaccine doses by contacting the countries manufacturing the vaccines at both the government and the private level.

This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna

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