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Vaccine diplomacy: Why it’s important for Bangladesh

  • Published at 11:31 pm September 5th, 2020
Coronavirus Vaccine
File photo: A small bottle labeled with a 'Vaccine' sticker is held near a medical syringe in front of displayed 'Coronavirus Covid-19' words in this illustration taken on April 10, 2020 Reuters

Govt not depending on any particular source for vaccine doses, says the health minister  

As many countries and companies are racing to develop vaccines to stop the Covid-19 pandemic, experts said Bangladesh needs to make “vaccine diplomacy” a part of its strategy to get one fast once it is ready.

In the context of polarized world politics, they said, Bangladesh should deal with both China and India smartly with an “open to all policy” alongside maintaining the contact with all the potential vaccine-producing countries to be among the first to procure an effective vaccine.

The experts, however, think it will still be too premature to make any final procurement deal with any potential vaccine-producing country right now since it is not clear which vaccine may prove safe and effective on completion of its phase three trial.

Contacted, Prof Delwar Hossain of Dhaka University’s International Relations department said Bangladesh seems to be lagging behind in coronavirus vaccine diplomacy for lack of proper planning, strategy, and initiative.

“We need smart diplomacy with proper planning and strategy to have enough doses of coronavirus vaccine from the successful candidate in due time,” he said.

The DU professor said it will be difficult to have a vaccine only relying on bilateral relations with a few countries as internal politics and political economy are involved with it.

“Economic diplomacy is also very important here. With a large population, Bangladesh is surely a big market for the vaccine producers which can be used as a bargaining tool during the negotiations,” he pointed out.

Delwar said two friendly countries — China and India — have already assured Bangladesh of giving priority in providing their vaccines due to their geopolitical interests. “We’ve already accepted China’s offer for the trial of its vaccine. We should also positively respond to India’s proposal. We should also look for options to join the trial of other vaccine candidates to create a scope to get it on a priority basis.”

He, however, expressed doubt about getting enough doses of any vaccine from sources like China and India as these countries have huge internal demand due to their very big population size. “So, we should keep it in mind the vaccine diplomacy. We need to focus on getting permission for manufacturing any vaccine in our country to ensure its availability here in due time.”

Maintaining contact with all potential vaccine-producing countries

Since it is uncertain which vaccine will finally come out as an effective one, Delwar said Bangladesh should maintain contact with all potential vaccine-producing countries and reach an understanding for getting their vaccines once those are approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“We must carefully monitor the development around the world regarding vaccines. We should have diversified sources. We’ll have to keep all the channels open. We’ll remain open to all. But before striking any written deal, we must remain very alert so that our money is not wasted and our national interest is not harmed in any way,” he advised.

As a developing country, Delwar said, Bangladesh should also make stronger efforts to have a vaccine with the help of Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (Gavi), Unicef, WHO, Pan American Health Organization (Paho), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and others.

Prof Muzaherul Huq, former adviser to WHO South-East Asia region, said China, India, the UK, the US, and Russia are now the most potential vaccine-producing countries. “We should keep in touch with them all.”

Besides, he said, the government needs to have constant contact with Gavi or international bodies to have promised vaccine doses from them on the principle of equitable distribution.

Govt not depending on any particular source

Contacted, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said the government has been working actively and sincerely to get an effective vaccine whenever it is available. “We’re contacting multiple sources instead of depending on any particular one to have the sufficient doses of a vaccine at the right time.”

He said Bangladesh sent an application to Gavi in July through the WHO to avail COVAX Global Vaccines Facility for lower and middle-income countries. “Our application has been accepted.”

Besides, they have already allowed the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) to run phase three trial of China’s Sinovac’s Covid-19 vaccine in Bangladesh, he added. 

“The trial of Sinovac’s vaccine will begin within a few days. Initially, the trial will be conducted on volunteers, mainly doctors and nurses of six-seven hospitals.

“As we’re participating in the trial, we’ll get one lakh free doses of the vaccine primarily, and then we’ll get priority in procuring the vaccine. This vaccine can be available by next January,” the minister said.

He said Beximco Pharma signed a deal with India's Serum Institute to get priority access to the Covid-19 vaccines being developed by it.

Serum Institute has already partnered with Oxford/AstraZeneca along with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi to produce more than a billion doses of the vaccine for global supply. “We hope Beximco Pharma will privately get a good number of vaccine doses from India,” Maleque said.

He said they also officially sought vaccine cooperation from India and they got assurance in this regard.

The minister said they sent a letter to Russia to get its vaccine and the country gave a positive response. “The Russian government wants to go under a government-to-government process fixing the rate of the vaccine. They may also allow us to produce their vaccines in Bangladesh.”

He said a letter was also sent to US drug-maker Pfizer for having its vaccine when it is available. “We hope they’ll give us the vaccine timely.”

About Oxford’s vaccine, Zahid said they will get it through India since the country has a partnership with AstraZeneca. “So, we won’t lag behind in providing vaccines to our people. We’re trying to get it from five to six sources. We’re even ready to procure necessary doses of vaccines, but we want an effective and harmless one at a fair price.”

He, however, said India has not yet come up with any offer to conduct trial of any vaccine in Bangladesh. “If we get any such proposal, we’ll decide it then.”

Earlier, Foreign Secretary Masud bin Momen said Dhaka intended to pick one potential vaccine that would be safe and most useful for Bangladesh while our efforts are on to get access to a potential Covid-19 vaccine”.

"It [vaccine] could be from China, Russia, the USA or India… our discussion is underway with them all," he added.

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