Bangladesh on Thursday signed an agreement with the Serum Institute of India and Beximco Pharmaceuticals Limited for availing three crore doses of Covidshield, a potential Covid-19 vaccine developed by Oxford.
The government expects to get the first consignment of vaccine shots in January next year.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque at the deal signing event said, "We are buying the vaccine directly from Serum. Beximco Pharmaceuticals will work as a supplier of the Indian company's vaccine to Bangladesh."
"We have signed the deal under a condition that we will take the vaccine only if it is approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO)," he said.
In the initial six months of the first phase, Serum will provide 50 lakh vaccine doses per month to Bangladesh through Beximco.
Moreover, COVAX will also give vaccines through the WHO, the minister said, adding that each person will require two shots to be jabbed in an interval of 28 days.
"We will get the vaccine at a price similar to what India will get it at," the health minister said.
Beximco will supply the vaccine doses to the health directorate's depot. Each dose of the Covishield vaccine, including transportation, will cost $5, he continued.
Zahid said as an agent of Serum, Beximco can also import vaccine doses commercially. Those interested can collect those from private hospitals.
Frontline health workers, policemen, members of armed forces and elderly people aged 65 or above will be the priority recipients for the jab and they will be vaccinated at government hospitals free of cost.
Gradually, all the people in the country will be brought under vaccination. For that, hospitals will be allowed to charge fees to be set by the health ministry.
Nazmul Hasan Papon, chief executive officer of Beximco Pharmaceuticals Limited, said, "Our conditions set for buying a Covid vaccine were very tough to comply with. They are a safe and effective vaccine, ensuring priority access to it, easily storable and low in price."
"Oxford, Moderna, Pfizer are the frontrunners in the Covid-19 vaccine race. Of them, only Oxford can meet these conditions. The vaccines being developed byModerna and Pfizer need to be preserved at temperatures ranging between -20°C and -72°C. But we do not have that preservation capacity. We only can preserve the Oxford-developed vaccine," he added.
"We still do not know if the Oxford's vaccine will be approved by the WHO. So far, it is the safest and cheapest. Bangladesh will get priority access to the Indian drug manufacturer's vaccine once it is approved by the WHO."
Mostafa Kamal, additional secretary to the health ministry, Sandeep Malay, additional director (exports) at Serum, and Rabbur Reza, chief operating officer at Beximco Pharmaceuticals, signed the tripartite vaccine agreement on behalf of their respective sides.
Health Secretary Abdul Mannan and Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Vikram Kumar Doraiswami were present during the time.
Beximco to get $1 per dose
Beximco will pay Serum $12 crore in advance for three crore vaccine doses – $4 per dose – and take a bank guarantee against the payment. Besides, the local pharma will also import the vaccine doses and hand it over to the government while maintaining a cold chain.
Beximco will get $1 per dose from the government for the vaccine import, preservation and management costs. In this way, the government will have to spend $5 per dose.
However, Health Minister Zahid Maleque did clarify how much Beximco will get for per dose.
Replying to a question, the minister said, "Beximco has a deal with Serum. They will decide on the vaccine price. But the government will have to spend $5 per dose including all costs."
Earlier, the Health Service Division sent a proposal to the Prime Minister's Office for approval to import Serum's vaccine through Beximco.
The Serum Institute of India, tasked with producing this potential vaccine in India, has agreed to sell the vaccine to Beximco at $4 per dose, according to the health ministry proposal.
Serum offered per dose of its potential vaccine at $5 while the Indian government agreed to pay $4 for it. Bangladesh thinks both Serum and the Indian government will eventually agree to keep the per dose price at $4.
Serum is ready to provide the vaccine doses at the same price, according to health ministry officials.
In the second phase, Bangladesh will avail supplies of vaccine doses at a price similar to what India will get it at. The vaccine price might rise or drop during the time.
In the current fiscal year's budget, the government has allocated Tk10,000 crore for Covid-19 treatment fund, a part of which is for vaccines.
The government is trying to draw foreign funding for the vaccine purchase.
To this end, the finance ministry has sent letters to the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Japan and different other global lenders, seeking $1-$1,5 billion in assistance for vaccinating all the people in the country free of cost.