Bangladesh has approved two new Covid-19 vaccines in the space of a day amid complexities over the vaccination programme because of a faltering supply of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from India's Seram Institute.
The Directorate General of Drug Administration on Thursday approved the coronavirus vaccine developed by the Chinese company Sinopharm for emergency use, after giving the clearance for Russia's Sputnik V shot on Tuesday.
Major General Mahbubur Rahman, director general of the Directorate General of Drug Administration, in a press briefing on Thursday said, "We have authorised the emergency use of the Sinopharm-made jab.
"This vaccine will be purchased under a government-to-government (G2G) arrangement and so there will be no third party here. No decision has been made yet on the price of the vaccine. The governments of the two countries will set the price through negotiations."
China has given 5 lakh doses of vaccine to Bangladesh as a grant, which will arrive in Bangladesh in the next one to two weeks, he said.
Mahbubur Rahman further added that after the Chinese shot arrives in the country, it will first be applied on 1,000 people, who will be monitored for a week. "We will see how safe and effective this vaccine is. The Sinopharm jab will then be used in the mass immunisation programme. The two-dose vaccine will be given at intervals of 28 days."
The Sinopharm-made coronavirus vaccine is called BBIBP-CorV. This vaccine's clinical trials run by the state-owned company have shown that it has an efficacy rate of 79%.
The World Health Organisation expects to decide whether to give emergency approval for China's two main Covid-19 vaccines in the next two weeks, WHO Assistant Director-General for Drug Access Mariângela Batista Galvão Simão told a briefing on Monday, reports Reuters.
Simao said WHO could decide on a vaccine made by Sinopharm by the end of this week, and one made by Sinovac Biotech by the end of next week.
If approved, the Chinese vaccines will be the first from a non-Western country to gain approval from the global health body. So far WHO has given emergency approval to vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. It is also expected to review Moderna's shot this week.
The government has already given policy approval for the production of Sputnik-V and Sinopharm vaccines in the country. The vaccines will be bottled here through technology transfer or bulk.
Bangladesh's Incepta, Popular and Healthcare pharmaceutical companies have the capacity to produce the vaccines, the director general of the drug administration said, adding that the drug administration, however, has talked to Incepta Pharmaceuticals initially.
He also said representatives from China and Russia will visit the three pharmaceutical companies and assess their capabilities and then they will reach agreements with them.
Mahbubur Rahman said, "Incepta Pharmaceuticals will be able to produce 80 million vaccines per month in 10-dose vials. We have huge capabilities. This capability needs to be utilised. There is a vaccine crisis all over the world. If we transfer technology or bring in bulk and finish, then the vaccine can be exported after meeting domestic demand."
Asked whether those who have received the first dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine can take the Sinopharm vaccine in the second dose, he replied in the negative.
"They will receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Our National Immunization Technical Advisory Group will decide whether a second dose can be given with another vaccine after holding a meeting."
The government is preparing to vaccinate more than 13 crore people in the country to combat the coronavirus pandemic. On 5 November last year, the health ministry signed a tripartite memorandum of understanding with Serum Institute and Beximco to import the vaccine developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca.
Under a deal between India's Serum Institute and Beximco, the Bangladesh government was supposed to get 50 lakh doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines every month. Bangladesh has so far received 70 lakh doses in two shipments under the deal.
It is not certain when the remaining 2.3 crore doses of the vaccine bought by Bangladesh will arrive.
The government started vaccination activities on 8 February this year. The administration of the second dose of the vaccine began on 6 April. The administration of the first dose has been suspended amid uncertainty over the arrival of the vaccine shipment from India.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque told a programme on Thursday, "Our vaccination programme made a very good start, but it has faced a setback midway because of India's ban on vaccine export.
We are trying our best. As an alternative we have approved the Russian vaccine so that we can speed up our vaccination activities."
"If anyone wants to produce vaccines in the country, we will provide them with maximum support. We have a few factories in our country that can make vaccines. We want them to make vaccines for the people of our country as well as export the surplus ones."