Bangladesh has decided to suspend administering the first shot of the Covid-19 vaccine from Monday for an indefinite period because of depleting stock and uncertainty over securing the next shipment of doses anytime soon.
Dr Shamsul Haque, secretary-general of Covid-19 Vaccine Management Taskforce Committee, told The Business Standard yesterday that only the second jab will be administered for now.
The suspension will remain in force until further notice.
"It is uncertain when the inoculation of the first shot will resume; it will depend on the availability of next vaccine supplies," said Dr Shamsul Haque.
In a letter signed by Dr Shamsul, the Directorate General of Health Services asked all civil surgeons, chief health officials of city corporations and all upazila health and family planning officials to take measures accordingly.
Bangladesh rolled out mass inoculation on 7 February with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by India's Serum Institute, and more than 58.18 lakh citizens have so far been immunised. On 7 April, the second dose inoculation began. Some 23.26 lakh people have been administered the second shot till now.
Bangladesh now has only 20.54 lakh doses of vaccine out of 1.2 crore doses.
Professor Md Sayedur Rahman, chairman of the Department of Pharmacology at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, told TBS that the administering of the first shot should have been stopped the moment uncertainty arose over the vaccine resupply from India. Because it is the moral obligation of the government to give the second shot to all those who have taken the first one.
"Now, Bangladesh is trying to collect vaccines from China and Russia. I think the government is on the right track," he added.
Not only the vaccine, Bangladesh will also have to collect the technology from Russia and go for local production. The government also needs to build capacity for this. It is essential to overhaul the government's vaccine producing company, the Institute of Public Health, Sayedur said.
"It is not the last pandemic, there will be a need for vaccines for different diseases in the future," he added.
Last year, China's Sinovac showed interest in conducting a vaccine trial in Bangladesh, but it did not happen due to Bangladesh's indecision.
Professor Sayedur said Bangladeshi researchers should get opportunities in taking part in research on developing a new vaccine against the mutant variant of coronavirus.
Bangladesh is now trying to get vaccines from different sources.
To counter any possibility of vaccine shortages amid the spike in infections, the government has decided to join a new platform brainstormed by China to facilitate cooperation among six countries in the region.
China, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka are members of the platform, which will provide vaccines to its member nations on a priority basis during emergencies.
Bangladesh will receive one lakh doses of Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine through the global Covax programme in May, said Dr Robed Amin, spokesperson for the Directorate General of Health Services.
"We are currently administering AstraZeneca vaccine as the first and second dose of Covid-19 vaccination. We have some doses of vaccine left to be obtained from the Serum Institute in India," he said at a regular briefing on Sunday.
As per a deal with Serum and Beximco, the Bangladesh government was supposed to get 50 lakh doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine every month. Bangladesh has so far received 70 lakh doses in two shipments under the deal.
"The Chinese government will give 6 lakh doses of coronavirus vaccine to Bangladesh as a token of appreciation," he added.
Dr Amin further said talks are underway to buy 10 crore doses of Covid-19 vaccine from the GAVI vaccine alliance.