Government wants to vaccinate Rohingyas as well, says Foreign Minister Dr Momen
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen on Friday reached out to the global media to let the world know that Bangladesh is looking for vaccines desperately and is ready to accept any shipment from any country, including the United States.
"We need it desperately. If any shipment comes, we’ll take it right away," he told CNN in a live interview.
Dr Momen said the big problem is that a large number of people in Bangladesh who took the first dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca could not take the second dose.
"Because we don't have any more, we can't give them the second dose. That’s creating a lot of problems for us," said the foreign minister.
He said the government of Bangladesh is trying to get vaccines from other places and they were delighted when Bangladesh heard that the US will be distributing some of the AstraZeneca vaccines that they have.
Dr Momen said he had requested the US government and sent a letter to his counterpart US secretary of state. "They agreed to give us [vaccines]."
Now the problem is, he said, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking a long time to approve the export of AstraZeneca vaccines.
Dr Momen said they are thankful to US President Joe Biden for announcing that the US will be distributing some of the Astrazeneca vaccine doses to developing countries, in pretty large numbers — around 80 million doses. "This is good news for us."
Exploring multiple options
On Thursday, Dr Momen said the government is giving its best efforts to get vaccines connecting multiple countries — the United States, China, Canada, Russia and the UK — apart from its continuous request to India to meet Bangladesh's urgent needs.
He said the discussion with China is almost at the final stage while they are expecting a positive reply from the US on the vaccine front.
While talking to reporters at State guesthouse Padma, Dr Momen said there are people who could not take the second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine due to short supply from India.
He also highlighted the ongoing discussion with Russia. "Hope everything will be settled within a week."
Responding to a question, the foreign minister said they came to know unofficially that Bangladesh is not in the priority list of the USA as Bangladesh had a comparatively low death toll.
"I didn't like the idea. They (US) don't think it's a crisis in Bangladesh," he said, adding that it is an emergency issue for Bangladesh.
US State Department Coordinator for Global Covid-19 Response and Health Security Gayle E Smith has said the United States is going to be the largest sharer of vaccine jabs putting 80 million additional vaccine doses into the mix.
"I can’t tell you at this point what the allocation is going to be per country. We’ll have information for you later on. And as I think I mentioned, we are also, with respect to India and also India’s neighbours, mounting an emergency humanitarian response given the surges that are ongoing there," she said.
In a telephonic media briefing on Wednesday, Smith referred to an announcement by US President Joe Biden earlier this week that they will be sharing 20 million vaccine doses from their own stocks in addition to the 60 million AstraZeneca doses that were announced previously by the president.
"So that means we’re going to be putting 80 million additional vaccines into the mix, making us the largest sharer of vaccine doses thus far," she said.
The US official said given the surge there, India has been a major priority for the US. "We’ve delivered $100 million in emergency assistance; mobilized with the American private sector a pretty amazing response, again, from the American private sector and public, and we’ll continue to do so."
Smith said she does not have anything to say yet on the ultimate allocations, but they will reach out and make sure that all are informed when those decisions are made.
Responding to a question on India, Dr Momen said India never said that they will not give vaccine doses to Bangladesh but failed to deliver.
He said India was requested to provide vaccine doses to Bangladesh as a gift to meet its emergency need if India has an embargo on export.
"I should say we had a very positive discussion (with my Indian counterpart)," Dr Momen said.
Earlier, Foreign Minister Dr Momen requested his Indian counterpart Dr S Jaishankar to ensure the supply of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Bangladesh as soon as possible to meet Bangladesh’s needs.
Bangladesh entered into a deal with Serum Institute of India (SII) to purchase 30 million doses of a then potential vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca for Covid-19.
Bangladesh was supposed to get five million doses of the vaccine per month as SII and Bangladesh’s Beximco Pharma signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for priority delivery of the vaccine doses.
Bangladesh sought at least three million doses of the vaccine under the agreement to address the immediate demand in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has so far received only seven million of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine doses produced by SII through its contract. Bangladesh also received 3.3 million doses of the vaccine as a bilateral partnership gift.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh has sought at least two million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Canada on an emergency basis to meet the emergency need of 1.6 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to administer second doses.
Vaccines for Rohingyas
Responding to a question from CNN, Dr Momen said Bangladesh has taken very strict preventive healthcare action, and as a result, the fatalities and infections in Rohingya camps are relatively very low.
"In the Rohingya camps, we have around 1.1 million of them. You see, we could not provide them with vaccines yet," he said, adding that the government wants to get them vaccinated too.
On the situation in India, Dr Momen said they are afraid as Covid-19 cases are increasing alarmingly in the neighbouring country.
"You know that Bangladesh and India have a very good relationship — we have tried to close the border so that people from India don't come, but a lot of people are coming and many Bangladeshi went there and they're coming back," he said.
The foreign minister said they are afraid that there could be an increasing number of Indian variants of coronavirus. "But we are taking precautions and maintaining a strong quarantine arrangement."
"We think we need to have more vaccines, that's important," he added.
Dr Momen said they have to be careful so that Covid-19 does not spread. "Therefore, we need all protective measures."