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Covid-19 vaccines: What are Bangladesh’s options as stocks run dry?

  • Published at 10:54 pm April 21st, 2021
vaccine bangladesh-mehedi
Representational Photo: Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Government committee looking at Covax program, direct acquisition from vaccine manufacturers

With Bangladesh fast running out of stock, the top authorities of the government have been frantically searching for Covid-19 vaccines from various global sources.

As of Monday, Bangladesh had just three million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine from Serum Institute of India (SII) remaining, according to statistics from the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).

The government on April 19 formed a five-member committee to review alternative sources of Covid-19 vaccines, as SII has been unable to send contractual vaccine shipments for months. The committee, led by Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA) Director General Maj Gen Mahbubur Rahman, is scheduled to submit its report on April 28.

DGHS sources said the committee was considering the acquisition of vaccines through the Covax program, as well as directly from manufacturers. 

Direct import from vaccine manufacturers

Some of the vaccines being considered by the review committee include the vaccines by Johnson & Johnson and Moderna in the US, Sinopharm and CanSino in China, and the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia. The committee’s recommendations on the vaccines will be included in the report on April 28.

Sources have said Renata Pharmaceuticals, a Bangladeshi pharmaceutical company, is willing to import the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines if the government gives approval.

Chinese firms can directly supply vaccines to the Bangladesh government. Sinopharm has already offered six million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine to Bangladesh following a proposal by the Bangladesh Private Medical College Association.

The Sputnik-V vaccine is also being discussed at the government level. 

Furthermore, the government has taken an initiative to procure another 30 million doses of vaccines by inviting international open tenders and is also looking at the purchase of 30 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine with UNDP funding.

Initial findings of the review committee

A DGHS source said the Moderna vaccine is not preferable for Bangladesh as it needs to be stored at freezing temperatures. According to CDC guidelines, the vaccine has to be stored between -15 degrees Celsius and -50 degrees Celsius.

“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will also be difficult to acquire, because they have a deal with the US under which they can only provide the vaccine to the US until August this year,” the source added.

The Chinese and Russian vaccines have been used in several countries, but they are yet to get WHO approval, another DGHS official said.

“The Russian vaccine is very effective at preventing Covid-19, which is why India has already approved it and Bangladesh is discussing it. The Chinese vaccines can be imported directly and they have a high production capacity, but they are much less effective than the Russian vaccine,” the official added.

“Sputnik V is a two-dose vaccine, with each dose costing $12, while the AstraZeneca vaccine double dose costs $10,” he added.

DGHS DG Dr ABM Khurshid Alam said: “The government is reviewing a total of five vaccines from the US, China and Russia. The government wants to use one or two of the vaccines as alternatives.”

The Covax pipeline

Covax is a global initiative aimed at equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, as well as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organization (WHO). All WHO-approved vaccines are available through the program, including the vaccines by Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.

Bangladesh is set to receive 68 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines for free through Covax, including 10.908 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are supposed to be delivered in May, but delivery can only be completed once SII resumes exports.

A letter from Gavi to the DGHS on April 18 stated that Bangladesh might acquire additional doses of vaccines from Covax through a purchase agreement, but the requisition must be submitted by April 24. The date for delivery of the vaccines is yet to be determined.

“We are reviewing the offer and will send a reply in due time. We are thinking of acquiring more vaccines through Covax as we will definitely need more doses; it is unclear when delays in shipments of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be resolved,” DGHS officials have said.

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