Although the availability of the Oxford vaccine seems to have become uncertain, Bangladesh still depends on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and COVAX vaccines to fight against the novel coronavirus.
The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) expressed hope that Bangladesh would not suffer because of the uncertainty regarding the Oxford vaccine. The government has continued its preparations for the Covid immunisation programme, centring on the Oxford vaccine, it said.
Meanwhile, Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd said it will bring in the doses of Oxford vaccine in time as per the agreement with the Serum Institute.
Professor Meerjady Sabrina Flora, additional director general of the DGHS, said, "We have not made any agreement with any company for vaccines, other than Oxford vaccine, but talks are on with everyone."
The government had initial talks for Russia's Sputnik-5 vaccine and another Chinese vaccine.
COVAX vaccines coordinated by GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the WHO will cover 20 percent of the country's population. The vaccines will be available in phases. Doses of the first lot are expected to arrive by June this year, Flora said.
COVAX is an international health group that made deals with vaccine manufacturers to ensure that low and middle-income countries get equal access to coronavirus vaccines.
Flora, also chair of the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan for Covid-19 vaccines, said the preparation for vaccination was on. "Now we are training health workers."
On 5 November last year, the health ministry signed a tripartite memorandum of understanding with the Serum Institute and Beximco to import the vaccine developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca.
About three crore doses have been secured, which Serum would deliver over a period of six months – 50 lakh a month. The doses will be given to 1.5 crore people -- 9% of the population.
Bangladesh has paid nearly Tk 510 crore in advance to the Serum Institute for the doses.
But the recent statement of the chief executive officer of the Serum Institute over a ban on vaccine export led to concerns about the availability of the vaccine.
The Indian government later said there was no restriction on vaccine export.
Experts think that the government should look for alternative sources now.
Prof Muzaherul Huq, former adviser of the World Health Organisation's Southeast Asia region, said most of the countries already had more than one source to get Covid vaccines.
Given the current situation, Bangladesh should immediately tap into other sources, and the best choices would be China or Indonesia, he added.
Noted virologist Professor Nazrul Islam said the government should have made deals with multiple sources for vaccine.
"We would have had an alternative had we allowed the trial of Chinese Sinovac vaccine. Without wasting any time further, we should search for other sources."
Rabbur Reza, Beximco Pharma's chief operating officer, said, "We have not yet received the approval of the regulatory authority [for vaccine import]. We just got the NOC to bring the vaccine. An expert committee meeting was held on Thursday. We will bring the vaccine within a month after they check all the documents and give the go-ahead.
"We still believe we can get the vaccine at the right time," Reza said.