Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd – a leading drug manufacturer – is importing 10 lakh doses of Covid-19 vaccine for the private sector, alongside the 3 crore doses being imported at the government level.
The additional doses will also arrive in the first phase, and Beximco will make the vaccine available to both the private sector frontliners and the general populace. Each dose will have a retail price of around Tk1,200 and any fees imposed by the government will be applicable too.
Speaking with The Business Standard, Beximco Pharma's Chief Operating Officer Rabbur Reza said, "We have confirmed additional orders for Covid-19 vaccine, and imports might increase in the coming days."
The vaccine doses imported at the government level will be distributed on a priority basis among frontliners such as public health workers, and people aged 60 and older.
Beximco Pharma said the additional doses are being imported to safeguard the private sector frontliners.
However, the company is yet to decide on a list of people who will get those doses.
Beximco Pharma COO Rabbur Reza said, "Those working in garments, pharma industry, banks and corporate houses are not frontliners at the government level, but they are also doing their part just as those frontliners to keep the wheels of economy turning.
"These people are going to work, and they are getting exposed. We are importing the additional doses for frontliners at the private sector and the people in general, who are likely to face delays in getting their doses."
At the government level, Bangladesh is buying the Oxford/AstraZeneca Vaccine, AZD 1222 at $5 per dose.
Rabbur Reza further said, "We will pay Oxford $8 for each dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. So, the maximum retail price will be around Tk1,200. However, the price has not been finalised as yet.
"The final price will be set following the government's policy for imported vaccines, while the carrying cost and insurance will also be added. The centres distributing the vaccine might charge people a nominal fee set by the government."
On November 5, Bangladesh's health ministry signed a tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Serum Institute of India and Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd to import the vaccine under development by Oxford/AstraZeneca.
Some three crore doses have been secured, and the vaccine will reach 1.5 crore people or 9% of the population. In the initial six months of the first phase, Serum will supply three crore doses of the vaccine – 50 lakh per month.
When will the vaccine arrive?
According to Beximco sources, after Oxford secures the UK's approval for the vaccine by the 3rd week of December, it will seek India's approval at the end of December or the beginning of January. They will also seek approval from the World Health Organisation around the same time.
Dr Shamsul Haque, director of the Expanded Programme for Immunisation (EPI), said, "First of all, the vaccine, which is being imported, must be pre-qualified either by the World Health Organisation or the European Commission."
On the issue, Beximco Pharma COO Rabbur Reza said, "After Oxford secures approval for the vaccine from the UK, India and WHO, we will have to get DGDA's approval too. The first batch of vaccines should arrive in Bangladesh within a month of drug administration's approval.
"The whole approval process should be completed by the end of January or February. If we get the approval in January, the vaccine will arrive in Bangladesh in February. We will make a serious effort to accelerate the process."
Beximco will seek approval from the DGDA before the WHO approved the vaccine.
Rabbur Reza continued, "We will soon receive the vaccine trial results from five countries, and we will begin supplying the data to the DGDA. If we get everything ready here, the DGDA is expected to approve the vaccine as soon as the WHO approves it."
The Expanded Programme for Immunisation (EPI) will handle the vaccination programme for doses imported at both the government and private levels.
Rabbur Reza said, "The government will decide which centres will distribute the vaccine, as it wants to collect all data regarding the vaccination programme – such as any possible cases of adverse reaction and immunity.
"The process will be carried out in a controlled way."
After the vaccines arrive in Bangladesh, Beximco will initially use its own cold chain to store the doses. Later, the company will deliver the vaccine to designated state-owned warehouses.