Following this, the cabinet committee approved the procurement of vaccines from China’s Sinopharm on 19 May.

During the first wave of coronavirus in November last year, Bangladesh signed a tripartite deal with India’s Serum Institute and Beximco pharmaceuticals to procure 30 million (3 crore) doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. However, after delivering 7 million (70 lakh) doses in two phases, the Serum Institute of India stopped exporting vaccines and Bangladesh fell into disarray.

Due to the surge in coronavirus transmission, India imposed a ban on exporting the coronavirus vaccine. As a result, the vaccination drive in Bangladesh, which started in February, became uncertain.

To deal with the situation, the government approved the emergency use of Russia’s Sputnik-V and China’s Sinopharm vaccine in April and May respectively with an aim to procure vaccines from alternative sources.

When asked about the progress in procuring Sinopharm vaccine, foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen told Prothom Alo, “Virtual meetings have been held between the two countries at representative level in two phases regarding the purchase of vaccines from China. All the procedural issues are going well. I hope that everything will be finalised within a few days.”

When asked about the arrival of the vaccine, he hinted that vaccines will arrive soon once all the procedural matters are finished.

Speaking to senior officials of the foreign ministry, it was learned that the two parties have signed three agreements and its affiliated documents to procure 15 million vaccines from Sinopharm. They are – non-disclosure agreement, letter of commitment and purchase agreement. During the discussion between the two countries regarding this, Bangladesh proposed that China deliver 5 million doses of vaccine in each consignment in June, July and August. China has primarily agreed to this proposal, said a senior official.

When asked about the price of the Sinopharm vaccine, the concerned officials refused to make any comment.

Replying to another question, an official said people who had been vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine would not be given the Sinopharm vaccine. Mainly, the people, who have not taken the first dose, would be given the vaccine procured from China.

He further said, Mauritania has proposed to hire 1,500 Bangladeshi workers with the condition that each of the workers be vaccinated with both doses of coronavirus vaccine before leaving the country.

China gave Bangladesh a total of 500,000 vaccines as a gift on 12 May. Later on 19 May, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi declared to give another 600,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine to Bangladesh as a gift while talking to foreign minister AK Abdul Momen over phone.

Discussion about Russian vaccine in this week

Meanwhile, Bangladesh has already signed a deal with Russia to produce the vaccine and procure the vaccine on a commercial basis from them. The final discussion regarding the procurement of Sputnik-V vaccine from Russia will start this week.

Several officials of the government affiliated with the procurement of vaccines from different countries told this correspondent that Ahmad Kaikaus, the principal secretary to the prime minister, would lead Bangladesh in the discussions with Russia. One section of the agreement is related to procuring vaccines and the other part is related to producing the vaccine.

At the moment Russia will discuss the procurement of vaccines only. Russia said regarding the manufacture of the vaccine in Bangladesh that they will discuss with Bangladeshi pharmaceutical companies with the ability to manufacture the vaccine and on the basis of that discussion, they will select a company as their associate in producing Sputnik-V vaccines.

Foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen said, “We are going to start the discussion with Russia this week in almost the same way as we did with China. As the agreement has already been signed, we want to finish the rest of the procedures through discussion.”

When asked about the number of vaccines to be procured from Russia, an official of the foreign ministry said on the condition of anonymity that at the initial stages, the plan was to procure more than 10 million (1 crore) vaccines from Russia. However, the number has been reduced to 6 million (60 lakh) now. Bangladesh is expecting to get the vaccine from Russia in June after all the procedures. However, the number of consignments and the amount of vaccines in each consignment has not been fixed as yet.

The government has a bit more than 400,000 Oxfrd-AstraZeneca vaccines in stock at the moment. Vaccination drives in several districts have been halted due to lack of vaccines.

* This report, originally published in Prothom Alo online and print editions, has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu.

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