• Wednesday, Nov 30, 2022
  • Last Update : 10:24 am

Gearing vaccine diplomacy to combat Covid-19

  • Published at 04:45 am August 29th, 2021
File photo: A woman holds a small bottle labelled with a "Coronavirus Covid-19 Vaccine"sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken October 30, 2020 Reuters

Around 250 million doses will be required to inoculate 80% of the country’s population

Bangladesh should negotiate with Japan, Thailand, Russia, South Korea, and other countries at the top level to procure and transfer Covid-19 vaccine technology with the aim of meeting its demand for vaccines, health experts have said.

Dhaka recently inked a co-production deal with Beijing for the Sinopharm vaccine, and a similar deal was signed with Russia for the Sputnik V vaccine. However, this does not mean Bangladesh should stop looking for avenues to produce other vaccines, they added.

Bangladesh has a population of over 160 million. As a result, at least 250 million vaccine doses are needed to fully vaccinate the 75-80% of the population required for a return to normal life.

According to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), around 5% of the total population had been fully vaccinated as of Saturday, while about 10% of the population were partially vaccinated.

The country has been administering an average of over 2.7 million doses per day in recent times, and insufficient supply of vaccines is the main factor limiting the vaccination campaign.

Dangers of dependence on a single source

Bangladesh began its vaccination campaign in February after signing a contract with the Serum Institute of India (SII) for 30 million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. The SII were supposed to deliver the vaccines in monthly shipments of 5 million doses, each.

However, India only managed to deliver 7 million doses in official shipments and 3.3 million doses as gifts, as they were forced to prioritize domestic needs following the emergence of the deadly Delta variant of Covid-19 in March.

Bangladesh had to halt its vaccination campaign once the supply from India dried up, highlighting the dangers of depending on a single source. Eventually, more vaccines were procured from Russia and China, while deliveries under the Covax facility also began.

Also Read - Bangladesh receives another 600,000 AstraZeneca vaccines under Covax scheme

“Bangladesh did not really start looking for other sources of vaccines until it became clear that India would not live up to their end of the deal anytime soon. The country should learn from this experience and pursue a rational vaccine procurement policy,” said a professor at Dhaka Medical College Hospital.

Bangladesh should speak to countries such as the US and the UK on procuring more vaccines and the means to produce vaccines locally, according to a professor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU).

Dr Liaquat Ali, director of Bangladesh Institute of Health Sciences (BIHS), and Dr Md Sayedur Rahman, chairman of the pharmacology department at BSMMU, urged the government to develop its capacity to locally produce vaccines to prevent further interruptions to the nationwide Covid-19 vaccination campaign.

How are other Asian countries sourcing vaccines?

A Nepalese diplomat who previously served in Bangladesh told Dhaka Tribune that Nepal has struck a deal with Japan for Covid-19 vaccines, as Japanese drugmaker Daiichi Sankyo Company recently started manufacturing the AstraZeneca vaccine. Nepal has also signed a deal with the US to procure Covid-19 vaccines.

Representatives of Daiichi Sankyo Co said the company on Thursday began bottling AstraZeneca vaccines based on an outsourcing agreement signed in February. The Japanese company is using undiluted solutions provided by AstraZeneca.

Siam Bioscience, a Thai drugmaker owned by the royal family, has started production of a Covid-19 vaccine using AstraZeneca's technology. They signed a contract with the British drugmaker in November last year.

South Korea is reportedly in talks with mRNA vaccine makers, including Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc, to produce Covid-19 shots. The country is ready to offer the capacity to make up to 1 billion doses immediately, Reuters reports, citing a senior government official.

Bangladesh’s agreements with China, Russia

Bangladesh recently inked a tripartite agreement with Chinese company Sinopharm International Corporation and local drug manufacturer Incepta Vaccine Limited to facilitate co-production of the inactivated Covid-19 vaccine (Vero Cell).

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by Health and Family Welfare Minister Zahid Maleque, Chinese Ambassador to Dhaka Li Jiming, and Incepta Vaccine Limited Chairman Abdul Muktadir at a ceremony at Bangladesh College of Physicians and Surgeons (BCPS) auditorium in Dhaka.

Under the agreement, Incepta will bring the Covid-19 vaccine from China in bulk, before bottling and labelling the vaccines locally.

Bangladesh also signed Covid-19 vaccine purchase and co-production agreements with Russia, according to Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen.

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