Bangladesh approves emergency use of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine
Bangladesh remains confident of getting the “Covishield” vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII) in a timely manner, despite reports that the Indian government will delay export of the vaccine for a few months to meet domestic demand.
At separate press briefings on Monday, Health Minister Dr Zahid Maleque, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen and the authorities concerned of Beximco Limited all expressed confidence that the vaccine would be delivered as per the agreement between Bangladesh and India.
The Bangladesh government also on Monday gave emergency use approval for the vaccine, which was developed jointly by Oxford University and European pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.
The Health Ministry had previously claimed that the vaccine would be delivered by the end of January or early February. However, it has admitted that the wait could be a little longer considering the emerging reports from India.
In response to a question from reporters on Monday, the health minister said: “We just came to know about the new update [on potential delays in vaccine delivery]. It cannot be said right now when exactly we are getting the vaccines. I will inform you all in two or four days.
“We have been in touch with the Indian authorities and they have assured us that we will get the vaccine doses as per agreement,” Maleque told reporters.
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Health Secretary Md Abdul Mannan on Monday said Bangladesh would get the vaccine by February.
“There is nothing to worry about regarding the vaccine. The Serum Institute of India has received approval from the Government of India. Now they will go to the World Health Organization (WHO) for another approval, which will take about three weeks. We have received assurances that we will get the vaccines by February, so there is nothing to worry about,” he said.
Beximco Pharma is set to play the role of exclusive distributor of the vaccine. Beximco Pharma Chief Operating Officer Rabbur Reza on Monday said the first shipment of the vaccine from SII should arrive on time.
“We are in constant communication with them. We spoke with SII even today. They have given us assurances of timely delivery,” he added.
In response to a question on the Indian government barring export of the vaccine, Reza said: “SII has already received requests for vaccines from around 70 countries, but they want to give priority to Bangladesh. SII will produce around two billion doses and we need 30 million, which is nothing compared to that.”
He added that Beximco Pharma submitted all necessary documents to the Directorate General of Drug Administration on Thursday.
According to UNB, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen also on Monday said the vaccine would be delivered from India in a timely manner.
"The decision has been taken at the highest levels and it will be implemented. Nobody has to worry or panic," he told reporters while sharing updates from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs on Monday.
Quoting the MEA, Momen also said: “SII CEO Adar Poonawalla’s comment regarding the ban on exporting the vaccine was his personal opinion.”
SII: No bar on vaccine export
Serum Institute of India has said that there is no ban on the export of vaccines from India.
SII Public Relations Officer Mayank Sen confirmed the matter to BBC on Monday, amid news that India had barred the export of Covid-19 vaccines made by the company to other countries.
On Sunday, the head of SII had said the Indian government would not allow the export of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for several months.
SII has been contracted to make 1 billion doses of the vaccine for developing nations. However, the company is yet to secure permission for export of the Covid-19 vaccine, which may take a few months, Mayank said.
Prior to exporting, SII would have to give 100 million doses of the vaccine to the Indian government, he added.
In December last year, India promised to provide Bangladesh with 30 million doses of the “Covishield” Covid-19 vaccine once it is ready by January this year. The assurance came during the first-ever virtual summit between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.
In November 2020, Bangladesh signed an agreement with SII and Beximco Pharmaceuticals for availing 30 million doses of Covishield. Bangladesh will make a payment of Tk12 crore to India, according to the agreement
Serum Institute is supposed to provide 5 million vaccine doses per month to Bangladesh for six months through Beximco.
The process of sending the money is moving very fast and the money will be deposited by Tuesday, said the health minister.