Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Vikram Doraiswami is keen to remind his hosts that there is another option of a Covid-19 vaccine available from his country as the vaccine supply from the Serum Institute of India got disrupted amid high domestic demand.
The High Commissioner said besides the Covishield vaccine from Serum, the alternative that they have consistently been offering to export Covaxin, which they offered not only for trial here in Bangladesh at their own cost but also for co-production.
Covaxin is the brand name of India's 'indigenous vaccine', so called for also being developed on Indian soil by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) - National Institute of Virology (NIV).
Doraiswami reiterated that for Covaxin, there is also an offer to co-produce that remains on the table.
He also said Dhaka can choose to be flexible, so the choice is not either/or. It can choose to order both.
"Bangladesh can choose all the options offered to it. It can choose some. But this is Bangladesh's sovereign decision, not an Indian decision," he said, while addressing a symposium titled 'Bangladesh-India Relations: Prognosis for the Future' which premiered on Thursday night on Facebook.
Renowned scholar-diplomat and adviser on foreign affairs to the last caretaker government Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury chaired the session. Chairman of Cosmos Foundation Enayetullah Khan delivered the opening remarks.
It was the latest instalment in Cosmos Foundation's Ambassador Lecture Series, in which the envoys of various countries stationed in Dhaka are invited to deliver a keynote, before engaging with a high-level expert panel on bilateral ties between Bangladesh and the country they represent.
Ambassador (retd) Tariq A Karim, Professor C. Raja Mohan, Professor Imtiaz Ahmed, Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, Dr. Debapriya Bhattacharya, Major Gen. (retd) A. N. M. Muniruzzaman, Dr. Fahmida Khatun, Brig. Gen.(retd.) Shahedul Anam Khan and Ambassador (retd) Krishnan Srinivasan spoke at the event as the panel of discussants, drawn from both sides of the border.
Bangladesh has so far received 7 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, manufactured under license by SII and sold under the brand name Covishield. It had signed a deal with local pharma giant Beximco Pharmaceuticals to supply 30 million doses over a period of 6 months, starting from January.
The supply of the rest of the vaccine doses as agreed remains suspended due to current high demand in India.
Bangladesh also received 3.3 million doses of Covishield as a bilateral partnership gift. Overall, the 10.3 million doses are the largest amount sent by India to any country.
The Indian envoy said SII signed the agreement directly with the Health Ministry of Bangladesh through Beximco on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. "It's not a government of India-facilitated agreement."
icddr,b and Bharat Biotech entered into an agreement in December 2020 for the Phase-III clinical trials of Covaxin in Bangladesh, but the actual trials are still awaiting approval.
Covaxin has shown efficacy of over 80%, comparable to that of Covishield.
An array of experts from Bangladesh and India were brought together for the online symposium hosted by the Cosmos Foundation, philanthropic arm of the Cosmos Group, to assess the state of relations between the two countries and identify the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the effort to take it forward.
India's tough second wave
The High Commissioner said they have done their best to provide vaccines to Bangladesh, to all its neighbours and also to other countries to which they have legally and commercially binding obligations, including the UK.
On availability of vaccines, the Indian envoy said there is a major crisis underway in India at the current moment
"We're doing our best within that current situation to make available vaccines and increase the production of vaccines so that we've the capacity to provide not only to our population who're now unable to get the first or second doses of vaccine but also provide it to whom SII has bilateral commercial commitment," he said.
India has been trying to meet its internal demand as well as obligations made under contractual agreements by Indian companies to produce more of the vaccines being manufactured at the Serum Institute of India in Pune and by other prominent vaccines manufacturers.