About 5.7 million people have received the first shot while over 900,000 got the second jab
The stock of 10.2 million Covid-19 vaccine doses Bangladesh has received so far is set to run out in about one month, around the end of May, according to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
Bangladesh is supposed to receive 5 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine each month under an agreement with Serum Institute of India. However, no official shipments have arrived in the last two months as the Indian government is prioritizing domestic needs.
DGHS Non-Communicable Disease Control (NCDC) Unit Line Director Dr Mohammad Robed Amin told Dhaka Tribune: “If 100,000 people are vaccinated every day, the remaining vaccines will last around 20 days, hardly a month.”
Neither the Department of Health nor Beximco, the official distributor of the vaccine in Bangladesh, knows when the next shipment of vaccines will arrive.
Experts said the vaccine crisis was not limited to Bangladesh as the entire world was scrambling for answers to Covid-19.
According to the DGHS, about 5.7 million people have received the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Bangladesh, while over 900,000 people have received second doses as of April 15. The administering of the second doses began on March 8.
A total 7,088,469 people have registered for the vaccine in the country so far.
As the administering of first doses has continued alongside the administering of second doses, the stock of vaccines will run out before everyone who has received first doses receives his or her second dose. As a result, the DGHS is now looking at alternative sources of vaccines, such as Russia and China.
The search for alternative sources of vaccines has gained further importance as the health authorities recently received confirmation from GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, via email that the supply of 20 million doses of the vaccine through the Covax program could arrive in the first week of May instead of April. Delivery of the vaccine is also dependent on India lifting its export ban.
Dr Robed Amin said: “Discussions on Bangladesh getting 10.9 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine under the Covax program by May 2021 are ongoing. If we get those vaccines, the crisis will be averted.
“We are trying to reach agreements with organizations in different countries to bring in more vaccines that are approved by the World Health Organization. The second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine can be given within six months, so we are hopeful of getting more of that vaccine in this period,” he added.
Mohammad Asad Ullah, secretary and executive director (management team) at Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd, told Dhaka Tribune: “I cannot say right now when the new supply of the vaccine will come. We don’t have a specific date. If you want to know why the shipment is late, please contact our managing director.”
Beximco Managing Director Nazmul Hassan Papon could not be reached for comment.
Sputnik V the next option?
Experts said they supported the government’s efforts to find alternative sources of the vaccine, and the Russian Covid-19 vaccine Sputnik V might be an option.
Prof Nazrul Islam, a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC) on Covid-19, said: “There is uncertainty about Bangladesh's ability to get vaccines because it is dependent on a single organization with no alternative. We think we should import Sputnik. This will reduce our vaccine crisis right now.
“If a different type of vaccine is given for the second dose after the first dose, what are the benefits of this mixed vaccine? What could be the damage? Experts and researchers are working to answer these questions around the world. Many believe mixing doses may be better,” he added.
“If a person is unable to take the second dose within 6 months of the first dose, the first dose will help his body make 75% of the antibodies,” Dr Nazrul Islam also said.
Dr Shah Ali Akbar Ashrafi, deputy program manager (eHealth, MIS-Health) at DGHS, said: “If we don't get the same vaccine, we will get another vaccine. However, we do not have any research on whether there will be problems with mixing doses, so the AstraZeneca one should probably be prioritized.”