Bangladesh is keen to import Russia's Sputnik V and China's Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccines as soon as possible after a completion of the necessary assessment on an immediate basis, health directorate Director General Prof ABM Khurshid Alam told The Business Standard on Wednesday.
He said the decision was made at a meeting of the inter-ministerial advisory committee on procurement and distribution of coronavirus vaccines on Wednesday morning.
The meeting was held to discuss alternative sources of the vaccine in light of the crisis confronting India. In the meantime, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal has said Bangladesh will be refunded if India's Serum Institute fails to supply the promised consignment of Oxford-developed vaccines to the country.
About the inter-ministerial meeting, Prof ABM Khurshid Alam said the meeting discussed bringing in the vaccine shots in the quickest possible time. The Sinopharm vaccine will be given to Bangladesh as a gift.
Asked if there had been any discussion on the pricing of the Chinese and Russian vaccines, the director general said, "Neither Sinopharm nor Sputnik have informed us about the prices yet. However, they have provided other information required for the imports. We have expressed interest in bringing the vaccines to the country as soon as possible after completing the overall process."
The meeting also dwelt on whether any other member can be included on the committee.
The government on 3 May formed the seven-member top-level committee led by the Health Services secretary to determine the demand for Covid-19 vaccines, their distribution and pricing.
Foreign Minister Abdul Momen told journalists that the 5 lakh doses of vaccine from the Chinese government would arrive in Dhaka as a gift on 12 May.
The government initiated measures to get vaccines from China as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine supply from India stopped recently.
Bangladesh will be refunded: Kamal
Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal yesterday said if vaccine doses are not provided as per agreement by the Serum Institute of India, Bangladesh will be refunded its advance payment.
However, he did not mention when Bangladesh will ask for the money back.
After a virtual meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Public Procurement on Wednesday, the finance minister said, "We still do not know for sure that we will not get the vaccines from Serum Institute. When we finally find out, we will probably get our money back. No country can cheat another country out of money this way."
"We did not pay Serum in advance upon just verbal discussions. There has been a written agreement, which all parties have an obligation to abide by. They had an obligation to supply vaccines to Bangladesh as per agreement because vaccines are now linked to human life and death," he added.
Asked if there was any provision of a compensation claim in the agreement signed with Serum Institute, he said, "I do not know. However, all the conditions of an international agreement are included in that agreement."
"We will no longer rely on a single source for vaccines. We are trying to source quality vaccines from other companies and countries," he said.
Indecision over the second shot
The health directorate has said the country needs more than 14 lakh doses of the Oxford vaccine to complete the inoculation of citizens who have already received the first jab.
If Bangladesh fails to secure the doses within the next eight to 12 weeks, the mass inoculation process, with the first dose already postponed, will hit a snag. The health directorate is yet to decide what it will do about citizens who have already taken the first dose of the Oxford vaccine.
Health directorate spokesperson Dr Mohammad Robed Amin made note of the developments through a virtual health bulletin on Wednesday noon.
Robed Amin said the first dose has been postponed since 26 April due to the supply crunch. Meanwhile, more than 27 lakh people are yet to take the second dose.
"We now have vaccines in stock for 12.73 lakh people, while the second dose for 14.39 lakh people has become uncertain," he stated through the virtual bulletin.
The spokesperson said the authorities will take a decision about the second dose in due course and there is nothing to worry about.
Robed Amin said if other countries substitute the second dose with vaccines other than Oxford, then Bangladesh will do so as well.