Bangladesh will receive 20 lakh doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from India as a gift on 20 January.
Directorate General of the health directorate Prof Abul Bashar Mohammad Khurshid Alam confirmed the matter to The Business Standard last night while sources at the Indian High Commission in Dhaka said the gift vaccine shots will arrive by air cargo.
Earlier on Monday, Health Minister Zahid Maleque told the press that the gift shots will arrive before 26 January.
He, however, did not specify how many doses Bangladesh will get.
"We will get some more shots from India as gift. Though the number is unknown at this time, the amount is assumed to be good," he told the press at the Dhaka Reporters' Unity in the morning.
Bangladesh in November last year signed a deal with the Serum Institute of India to buy 3 crore doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The minister said the first lot of the purchase will arrive within 26 January.
Terming the vaccine gift from India as a state-level issue, Zahid Maleque said, "The vaccination is a herculean task. Around 42,000 health workers are being trained. We are arranging everything ranging from cold boxes, syringes and sanitizers to vaccination staff."
The inoculation in Bangladesh will begin within a week of the vaccine arrival. In Dhaka, there will be 300 vaccination centres to carry out the immunisation.
In addition to the Serum Institute's Covishield, India has approved the emergency use of the Covaxin developed and manufactured by Bharat Biotech.
Asked which vaccine India would give to Bangladesh as the gift, the health minister said it was not clear. "But I think since India is using the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for its mass immunisation programme, they may give it as the gift," he added.
The health directorate said the nationwide vaccination will begin in the first week of February, and registration to get the vaccine will start on 26 January.
In the meantime, State Minister for ICT Division Zunaid Ahmed Palak said they have developed an app for the online registration and to ensure the security of the private information. The app will be handed over to the health ministry on 25 January.
So far, the government did not sign any vaccine deal with others except the Serum Institute of India, and no other vaccine has been approved for use in Bangladesh.
The health minister said the government is collecting information on vaccine developments, and monitoring vaccination campaigns in different countries.
"In addition to the Oxford vaccine, we are trying to bring in Pfizer, Moderna, and Russia's Sputnik shots," noted the health minister.
He said hospitals or diagnostic centres have been chosen as the vaccination centres so that immediate measures can be taken if anyone shows side effects after vaccination.
Zahid Maleque said the government will provide the vaccines for free, and it will also bear the medical costs if anyone develops side effects after receiving the vaccine.
Regarding the purchase price, he said Bangladesh is buying the vaccine at $4 per dose, while transportation will cost another $1 per shot.
The minister said, "We have an agreement that the Indian government will give us at a lower price if it can buy at a lower rate."
Monday was the deadline to inform whether Bangladesh wants to take the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Asked whether the country has taken any initiative in this regard, the health minister said, "We have written to the World Health Organization expressing interest in this matter."
He said the government would also allow the private sector to import and distribute Covid vaccine. The minister said the government would fix rates for vaccines brought in by the private sector.
Regarding the Globe Biotech vaccine, the minister said, "We congratulate them. We will observe whether the local vaccine succeeds the required trials and processes. We will provide them whatever help they need."