Over 1m people may have to wait for their second dose until vaccines come from a new source
If Bangladesh cannot manage a new consignment of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine before the stock runs dry in mid-May, over a million people may not get their second dose on time.
The health authorities assert that they are trying to manage the Oxford vaccine to ensure that they do not need to go for a mixed-vaccine distribution for a recipient in the second dose.
Experts emphasize administering the second dose on time, but they have also opined that it could be taken after the three-month interval period though there is a chance that it might not have the same level of efficacy.
According to government data, over 5.77 million people have got the first dose of the vaccine till now. Among them, over 1.96 million people got their second dose.
The authorities have administered over 7.73 million vaccines, and they have some 2.57 million vaccines in stock against an immediate demand of 3.81 million.
India’s decision of halting the export of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from late March has created uncertainty over the availability of vaccines for Bangladesh – at a time when the rate of infection and fatality is skyrocketing.
The country was supposed to get 30 million vaccines from Serum Institute of India (SII) in six instalments within six months. Till now Bangladesh has received only 7 million vaccines. Besides, India has given 3.3 million vaccines as a gift. This is the largest amount sent from India to any country.
The first shipment of five million vaccines arrived in January while the second consignment of two million doses came in February.
In recent times, several Indian national media have reported that the SII would not be able to produce and export vaccines within the next two months.
It is learnt that Bangladesh has contacted India to get 5 lakh doses on an emergency basis.
Decision on new vaccine source likely on Sunday
The government has accelerated its drive to find alternative sources of vaccines as uncertainty is looming. A five-member technical committee was recently formed to review possible sources of Covid-19 vaccines.
Sources in the government teams linked to vaccine search initiatives told Dhaka Tribune that the government was pushing hard to continue the vaccination program to tide over the pandemic and restore normalcy at the earliest.
The government is thinking about a multi-approach initiative that will allow it to acquire vaccines from several sources.
Developing technology and installing sophisticated labs to produce generic vaccines in Bangladesh will take much time. So collecting vaccines from abroad in the shortest possible time is the main priority now.
The foreign minister has announced that the health ministry has already signed an MoU to produce Russian Sputnik-V vaccines in Bangladesh. Dhaka Tribune, however, could not confirm it.
The minister yesterday said that China would give Bangladesh 600,000 doses of vaccines as a gift.
Additional Secretary (Public Health) Mujibul Haque, without elaborating the measures taken by the ministry, said that the authorities were trying hard to ensure vaccines for the country.
The technical committee is expected to submit its report on Sunday and the decision would be made soon after the submission, he hoped.
Russian vaccine a good option
Virologist Prof Dr Nazrul Islam, a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee, said that according to the regulations of the country WHO recognition was a must to accept any vaccine.
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The Russian vaccine is not approved by the European Medicine Agency Food and Drug Administration, but many European countries and India have given it their nod. “So this vaccine can be accepted for emergency use, but only after changing the existing regulations,” Dr Nazrul said.
Dean of the Pharmacy faculty of DU Prof Dr Abdur Rahman said that although the efficacy of the vaccine had been developed targeting the spike proteins, the vaccine was needed since it could at least reduce the severity of the infection.
But due to vaccine politics, it would not be easy for Bangladesh to get the vaccines on time. In that case, finding an alternative would be very useful. As the vaccines of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson appeared tough to collect, the Chinese and the Russian vaccines were easier options, he added.
Sputnik is also an Adenovirus vaccine like the Oxford-Astrazeneca. So it would be a good match if it could be used for mixed vaccine distribution. “But there is no evidence on how effective the mixed distribution will be,” the pharmacy professor added.
Besides, although the trial of the Oxford vaccine is for a three-month interval, the second dose could be taken at an interval of over three months. “But the efficacy of the vaccine will be a question,” Dr Abdur Rahman said.
When contacted, Director General of DGHS Prof Dr ABM Khurshid Alam said that various steps were being taken to continue the vaccination program.
“If we can’t get the vaccines before the current stock is finished, some 1-1.2 million people will have to wait till the next consignment arrives for their second dose,” he added.
Asked if the authorities would opt for a mixed approach in vaccine distribution, he said that they did not want to go for it. “But everything depends on the availability of the vaccine,” the DGHS chief added.