Uncertainty of vaccine availability must be cleared immediately

The tripartite agreement between the Bangladesh government, Beximco Pharmaceuticals and Serum Institute of India that brought hope to the people, has recently turned into despair. Bangladesh received 5 million doses of Covid vaccines in the first phase and 2 million in second phase. As per the agreement, Serum Institute was to supply 5 million doses every month whereas it did not send any vaccines after the 7 million doses. The Indian government had sent 3.3 million doses to Bangladesh as a gift. So far Bangladesh received a total of 10.3 million shots from India.

Prothom Alo reported on Friday that 7.8 million doses have been already administered in the country. The remaining doses in government storage will exhaust by 15 May. This situation has created uncertainty about the availability of vaccines. Serum Institute informed Bangladesh that Indian government has put a bar on exporting vaccines for the time being.

Given the current situation, managing director of Beximco Nazmul Hasan urged Bangladesh government to take strong steps. The two neighbouring countries engaged in diplomatic correspondence but of no use. Indian government clearly said that it could not export vaccines at the time as the demands for vaccines rose within the country due to rapid surge in infections. Moreover, the US has stopped supplying raw materials for vaccines to India, which as per India, is another reason for not exporting vaccines.

Bangladesh has been caught in the trade war between India and the US. Bangladesh made a move to to procure vaccines from China, Russia, the US and other sources. Bangladesh has a preliminary agreement with Russia. Bangladesh also joined in the Chinese initiative of Emergency Vaccine Storage Facility for Covid for South Asia. Other partners are Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Although the initiative is very positive, it is quite late now.

It will take time to get vaccines via the platform. Bangladesh is already hit by the second wave of coronavirus. Experts have been stressing the fact from the very beginning that relying on only one source for vaccine shots would not be a wise move. But the government policymakers did not pay heed to their words.

On Sunday, the director general of Directorate General of Health Services said, Bangladesh would receive 2.1 million doses in May. Two millions of the vaccines are of Oxford-AstraZeneca and remaining 100,000 are of Covax. The quantity is less than demand. Given the existing demands, the vaccines will be over in May. The government must try to collect vaccines from other sources in the meantime.

How come the government relied only on one source for vaccines when it was committed to inoculate 80 per cent of the population? The country needs as many as 260 million doses of vaccines are required to cover 80 per cent- 130 million- of population. If Serum Institute supplies 30 million doses, the government still has to collect 230 million doses from other countries. The government should think of producing vaccines in the country besides importing from other countries.