Bangladesh eyes Sputnik vaccine to overcome supply shortage from India
Russia has proposed to manufacture its 'Sputnik V' Covid-19 vaccine in Bangladesh in collaboration with local pharmaceutical firms under a co-production arrangement while Dhaka is searching other sources apart from India amidst a spike in infections in the country, according to Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen.
"We agreed with them (Russia) on coproduction (of vaccine) … though it's not finalised yet," Momen told the official BSS news agency.
Russia has invited Bangladesh to be a vaccine co-producer with its technology, saying currently the country lacks the production capacity to export its vaccine to Bangladesh.
As per the proposal, Russia will give the technology and Bangladeshi pharmaceutical companies will produce the Sputnik vaccine here, he said.
“If things go well … It will be cheap and hopefully it will be better,” he added.
Bangladesh so far was dependent on India’s Serum Institute. But as India was facing vaccine shortages amid an intensifying second wave of the deadly Covid-19 virus, the Pune-based vaccine producer has not been able to supply the doses to Bangladesh and other countries.
A Bangladeshi health ministry official meanwhile said the government constituted a five-member committee to explore newer vaccine sources and asked it to submit a report to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's office in the next seven days.
"The committee has been formed as availability of vaccines appeared uncertain," director general of health services Professor Dr Abul Bashar Mohammmad Khurshid Alam told newsmen.
Dhaka started vigorously hunting for other sources, including China, for getting the high demanded inoculation fearing India could get run out of vaccines for its own citizens.
Momen said Bangladesh earlier did not show much interest in the Chinese vaccine as their vaccine was yet to get the World Health Organisation (WHO) approval.
“But, now we are keeping open all options to get vaccines,” Momen said.
Momen said China, however, informed Bangladesh that they would not be able to export any vaccine before December as they already gave commitments to other countries to supply their vaccine.
Besides, he said, the World Bank recently informed Bangladesh to provide 80 lack doses of vaccine under COVAX by next month. “We are hopeful to get those vaccines under COVAX,” he said.
Bangladesh purchased 30 million doses of India-made vaccine under a tripartite memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed on November 5 and a subsequent agreement on December 13 among Bangladesh government, Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd (BPL) and the Serum Institute of India (SII).
As per the agreement, Bangladesh is supposed to receive 5 million doses in each month, but after the first consignment of 5 million, Dhaka is yet to receive the second consignment of 5 million that was scheduled to arrive here by March.
Bangladesh received 21.5 million vaccine doses from the Indian government as a gift apart from the commercially procured ones.
“They (India) have been telling us that they would send the vaccines... they never said that they couldn’t,” Momen said, adding that Dhaka keeps confidence in Indian assurance and is hopeful to get all the 30 million doses of vaccine within the timeframe of the agreement.
However, the minister said, Dhaka feared that Indian vaccine production is not enough considering their internal demand and international commitment.
Momen said the government has also been considering engaging the private sector in importing and marketing commercially expensive vaccines like the Pfizer-BioNTech one in the Bangladesh market to meet the demand.
He said the government aims to vaccinate 80 per cent of the total population free of cost to check the spreading of the deadly virus.
In Bangladesh, so far, nearly 5.5 million people have received the first dose of the vaccine while around seven million more registered for the vaccination.
Bangladesh is among the nations which has continued to witness a sharp surge in the cases of coronavirus, with right now 727,780 cases and 10,588 deaths caused by the disease, according to media reports.
Bangladesh recorded 91 deaths and 4,559 new infections in the 24 hours, according to government figures released on Tuesday.