Bangladesh is hopeful about receiving 3.5 million vaccine doses from Japan and the European Union (EU) under the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) initiative, along with more doses from China and the USA, said Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen.
The country on Wednesday also resumed the registration process for Covid-19 vaccine jabs after a pause of more than two months. The move came the very day Bangladesh recorded 201 deaths, which is the highest daily toll recorded ever since the pandemic struck home.
This registration process – which began from 10am Wednesday– is open for all Bangladeshi nationals over the age of 35 years. More than one lakh citizens registered for the jab on the first day.
"We are now in a good position. I believe that there will be no shortage of Covid-19 vaccines in the country, and the vaccination programme will continue uninterrupted," the foreign minister said while speaking with a small group of reporters at his residence on Wednesday.
Providing further details, Momen said, "Bangladesh is expected to get around 2.5 million doses of vaccine from Japan and another 1 million from the EU under the Covax initiative. These vaccine doses are likely to be from AstraZeneca.
Covax is a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines directed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and the World Health Organisation.
Mentioning that Bangladesh recently received 2.5 million doses of Moderna vaccine from the USA under the Covax facility, the foreign minister said, "The country has informed us that there will be more.
"The government also plans to bring more vaccine doses from Sinopharm over the next three months. The first consignment of 2 million doses of Sinopharm vaccine has already arrived in Bangladesh."
Momen further said Bangladesh will make an attempt to extend its agreement with China about vaccine doses beyond the next three months and the authorities will be alert against any doses that have expired.
Responding to a query about vaccine supply from the neighbouring country, the foreign minister said, "India never said they will not give us vaccines. I am optimistic that we will get the doses from India once their situation improves and production increases."
Bangladesh had made a deal with the Serum Institute of India (SII) last year to purchase 30 million doses of a potential vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca for Covid-19. But it has so far received only 7 million of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses produced by the SII as part of the deal.
However, Bangladesh received 3.3 million doses of vaccine from India as a bilateral partnership gift.
Discussing the issue of vaccine coproduction, Momen said, "We are currently having discussions with China and Russia regarding the matter. We approached them for co-production and managed to achieve some progress.
Momen said many private companies and individuals have lined up for bringing vaccines to Bangladesh but the government does not want to take that risk. "We will continue to bring vaccine doses and distribute those free of cost."
He continued, "Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina allocated adequate funds for purchasing vaccine doses, as the government wants to bring 80% of the country's citizens under Covid-19 vaccination.
Registration for vaccines resumes
As the registration process for Covid-19 jabs resumed after more than two months, the online servers suffered a lot of pressure. Though there are some complaints about this service, the situation will normalize in a few days, says the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
Speaking to the media about vaccine availability for people who newly registered, DGHS Director General Professor Abul Bashar Khurshid Alam said, "The Covid-19 vaccination drive has already resumed, and those who registered previously are now getting jabs.
"People who registered recently will get SMS notifications when their doses are ready. Vaccination will continue in multiple phases. "
This time, the registration process is open for all Bangladeshi nationals over the age of 35, which was previously limited to 40 years and up. People from 28 professions, including university students, migrant workers and farmers have been included in the priority list too.
Bangladesh resumed its mass vaccination drive on 1 July through the doses of Sinopharm and Pfizer vaccines.
According to the DGHS, seven centres in Dhaka are offering doses of the Pfizer vaccine, while regions under 12 city corporations across the country will get the Moderna vaccine. Doses of Sinopharm vaccine will be distributed to districts and upazilas throughout Bangladesh.
Bangladesh on 25 April this year halted the Covid-19 vaccination drive due to a shortage of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses. During the first week of May, authorities also stopped new registrations for getting vaccine jabs.
From 27 January 2021 until yesterday, around 74.43 lakh people registered for the Covid-19 vaccine in Bangladesh. Among them, 58.20 lakh took two doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, while 42.93 lakh took only one dose.
Besides, 2,237 people took two doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, while 95,195 people took only one dose. Around five thousand people have taken the Pfizer jab so far.
Bangladesh currently has 25 lakh doses of Moderna vaccine, 1 lakh doses of Pfizer and 30 lakh doses of Sinopharm.
On the matter, the DGHS director general said, "Bangladesh is optimistic about getting a good number of doses in this month and the next. We have sent necessary documents in the third phase to Russia for getting vaccines. But the country is yet to provide a reply."
'Field hospitals will be launched if necessary'
The DGHS is redistributing the manpower in favour of hospitals dedicated to Covid-19 treatment and making an effort to increase the number of beds there. The DGHS also plans to launch field hospitals if it becomes necessary to tackle any further rise in infections.
Addressing a DGHS virtual bulletin on Wednesday, the agency's spokesperson Professor Dr Nazmul Islam added, "If the upward trend of Covid-19 infections continues, the number of patients in July will exceed the cases recorded in April and June.
"We will face an uphill battle yet again if the number of cases rises unnaturally due to the violations of lockdown or health safety guidelines."
Commenting about the oxygen supply in Bangladesh, Dr Nazmul said, "Usually, Bangladesh used to have a demand for 50-70 tonnes of oxygen per day. Amid the pandemic, this demand has gone up three times.
"If the number of Covid-19 patients continues to go up, we will face a challenging situation."