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Dhaka Tribune

AstraZeneca: Govt's desperate efforts yet to yield any good news

Bangladesh reached out to the US and UK doses as 1.5 million people who have received their first jabs are unlikely to get the second shot

Update : 27 May 2021, 04:16 PM

Despite all-out efforts to get AstraZeneca vaccine doses to meet the immediate need of those yet to get their second dose, there is no concrete outcome yet. 

Apart from India, Bangladesh reached out to the United States and United Kingdom to get the AstraZeneca vaccine doses as 1.5 million people who have received their first AstraZeneca jabs are unlikely to get their second dose if the government does not receive vaccine doses from the countries it approached including those from COVAX facility.

Asked whether Bangladesh is getting AstraZeneca vaccine doses soon from the US, a spokesperson at the US Embassy in Dhaka said the US President reaffirmed that commitment by announcing that the US will provide 80 million doses of vaccine to support global needs by the end of June. 

But there is nothing specific yet on how many doses Bangladesh will get or when. 

"We are working to provide the 80 million doses in the near future and are evaluating the supply and will then make a determination on distribution," he told UNB. 

But Bangladesh informally came to know that Bangladesh is not in the priority lists as the US does not see any crisis in Bangladesh considering the low number of deaths and cases. 

The US Embassy spokesperson said the United States is committed to leading the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

"Our overarching aim is to end the pandemic as quickly as possible, and that requires getting as many people vaccinated as fast as possible," he said.   

In addition to distributing the 80 million doses of vaccine, the United States is the largest single donor to the global vaccine initiative, COVAX, with $2 billion already donated and plans to provide another $2 billion through 2022. 

"We will continue to work with and coordinate closely with COVAX and partner countries around the world to support global vaccination efforts," said the spokesperson.   

Earlier, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen wrote to US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken seeking vaccine doses from them immediately. 

After its request to the United States, Bangladesh urged the United Kingdom (UK) to help by providing vaccines to meet emergency needs as the second dose vaccination is disrupted in Bangladesh. 

"I'm not asking for too much, I'm only asking for 1.6m AstraZeneca doses that they have, they should immediately disperse those to Bangladesh so these people can have their second dose," said the Foreign Minister. 

When approached, a UK government spokesperson told UNB that the UK government does not have a role in the production or distribution of AstraZeneca's vaccines or their supply contracts. 

The spokesperson said the UK has played a leading role in championing global access to coronavirus vaccines. 

The UK is one of the largest donors to COVAX, providing £548 million to deliver more than a billion vaccines to lower-middle income countries this year. 

So far, COVAX has already helped deliver vaccines to more than 120 countries and territories, over 70 of which are lower-income countries. 

"Of the almost 1.5 billion vaccines which have been delivered across the world, more than 400 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine have been given around the world, at cost," said the spokesperson adding that the UK Prime Minister has confirmed the UK will share the majority of any future surplus coronavirus vaccines from their supply with the COVAX pool, when these are available. 

Foreign Minister Momen said the problem that Bangladesh is facing for ensuring the second dose could have been resolved easily if vaccine doses were available from the COVAX facility timely. 

He also wrote Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar apart from telephone conversation between them on vaccine issues. 

"I told him (Jaishankar) to send 1.5 million Oxford-AstraZeneca doses to Bangladesh as a gift if there is any export bar," Dr Momen said. 

A government source, however, said they are still hopeful of getting some vaccine doses from India in June to meet immediate needs. 

Bangladesh entered into a deal with the Serum Institute of India (SII) to purchase 30 million doses of a potential vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca for Covid-19. 

Bangladesh was supposed to get five million doses of vaccine per month as the SII and Bangladesh's Beximco Pharma signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for priority delivery of the vaccine doses. 

Bangladesh sought at least 3 million doses of vaccine under the agreement to address the immediate demand in Bangladesh. 

Bangladesh has so far received only 7 million of Oxford-AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine doses produced by Serum Institute of India (SII) through its contract. Bangladesh also received 3.3 million doses of vaccine as a bilateral partnership gift. 

The British Government, Oxford University and AstraZeneca, have invested in the research and came together to develop and deliver a vaccine at cost for everyone. 

They expect to have surplus doses, but exactly when these will be available depends on a number of factors including the continued reliability of supply chains and whether new doses are needed to deal with variant strains or as a booster. 

The government officials said both the first dose and second dose vaccination will begin simultaneously in June as procuring vaccine doses from China is at the final stage. 

The Foreign Minister said Bangladesh is at the final stage to procure vaccine doses from China. "It's at the final stage. All types of discussions are very positive." 

The government is in discussion to procure 1.5 crore doses of vaccine from China for June, July and August with an initial consignment of 50 lakh doses. 

The Cabinet Committee on Public Purchase on Thursday approved Health and Family Welfare Ministry's proposal to procure 1.5 crore doses of Chinese Sinofarm's Covid-19 vaccine.

Dr Momen said China assured Bangladesh of providing vaccines ensuring its steady flow of supply. 

An official at the Directorate General of Health Services said the government at the highest level is trying to get vaccine doses for smooth continuation of vaccination drives across the country.

"I hope we will get the vaccines. You'll get the second dose," he said, requesting all to wait with patience.

The first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccination drive remains stopped due to supply shortage while the stock for the second dose to get finished within days leaving around 15 lakh people waiting for their second dose. 

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