- Tk10,000cr earmarked for Covid-19 treatment
- Govt looking for vaccines through G2G deals
- COVAX to give 3% to only frontline workers
- Five vaccine candidates at final stage of phase-III trials
When many countries have scrambled to pre-order potential vaccines against Covid-19, Bangladesh is running out of time to make any deals in acquiring initial doses when they are available.
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, but it is yet to pre-order supplies from any potential vaccine manufacturers.
Health Secretary Md Abdul Mannan told The Business Standard, "No Covid-19 vaccine has been developed yet. Our fund is ready and we will buy vaccines as soon as they hit the market."
"We are contacting different countries and will buy from wherever we get a lower price. The vaccine will be purchased through a government-to-government deal," he added.
Criticising the government's approach to the vaccine purchase, Prof Dr Be-Nazir Ahmed, member at the National Immunisation Technical Advisory Groups, told The Business Standard, "The way the government is thinking of acquiring vaccines will be a complete mess. First of all, we have to assess which vaccine will work in Bangladesh and how much we can get from the supplier."
"Just having money ready will not guarantee availability of the doses required for our large population as there would not be sufficient supplies at the outset," he pointed out.
Prof Dr Be-Nazir recommended forming a committee to monitor vaccines being developed in different countries and regularly advise the government on the steps it should take, he added.
Moreover, the delay in Chinese Sinovac's vaccine trials in Bangladesh has made it uncertain of getting the previously announced 1.1 lakh doses for free and transferring of technology to local companies.
Professor Nazrul Islam, member of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19, said, "We suggested prebooking vaccines through advance payment."
All the countries of the world are now in a race to get vaccines. Many countries have already paid and booked vaccines in advance, he added.
Professor Sayedur Rahman, chairman of Department of Pharmacology at Bangbandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, told The Business Standard, "Only those who have already made advance payments will get vaccines. Our time has run out. We will not get required vaccines no matter how much money we invest now."
GAVI to initially supply 3% doses only for frontline workers
Bangladesh will initially get doses for 3% of its population from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI), – which would be enough for frontline workers, but it might take time to reach the country.
When more doses are produced, allocation will increase to cover 20% of the population.
When a safe and effective vaccine is found, COVAX, co-led by the World Health Organisation (WHO), GAVI and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, will facilitate the equitable access and distribution of these vaccines to protect people in all countries. People most at risk will be prioritised, according to the WHO.
Dr Shamsul Hoque, a member of the government's Covid-19 vaccine committee, told The Business Standard that GAVI will determine how many doses of vaccines would be available for a country. After that, Bangladesh will have to apply for the allocated number of vaccines.
"There is no rule to pay GAVI in advance. The number of doses we want to get from it will not be available when it hits the market. It will take more time," he added.
Five potential producers at final stage of phase-3 trials
Five global pharmaceutical companies – United Kingdom's (UK) AstraZeneca, Russian's Gamaleya, the United States' (US) Moderna and Pfizer and Chinese Sinovac – are frontrunners and their vaccines are currently in the final stage of the phase 3 trials.
Different countries have arranged to pay in advance to buy millions of doses of vaccines from them.
Oxfam, an international charity organisation, calculated the combined production capacity of these five vaccine candidates to be at 5.94 billion doses.
This is enough for 2.97 billion people in the first phase, provided all of these vaccines require two doses.
Oxfam said supply deals have already been agreed for 5.303 billion doses, of which 2.728 billion (51%) have been bought by developed countries, including the UK, the US, the European Union, Australia, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Switzerland and Israel.
"The remaining 2.575 billion doses have been bought by or promised to developing countries including India, Bangladesh, China, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico, among others," it added.
Sinovac vaccine trial now in limbo
Sinovac Biotech, the Chinese pharmaceutical company that wanted to conduct a phase-3 trial of its coronavirus vaccine in Bangladesh at its own cost, has now asked the Bangladesh government to co-finance the initiative.
On 22 September, in a letter to Health Minister Zahid Maleque, Sinovac said, "Our original plan was to start the trial by early August. When a delay in approval occurred, we reallocated our funds for trials in other countries. So, we do not have the funds to start the trial immediately."
"However, we are working on a plan to partially rectify the funding situation by the end of October- early November though we will still require co-funding to complete the entire trial in Bangladesh," the letter said.
Earlier, on 19 July, the Bangladesh Medical Research Council approved the Sinovac vaccine for trial in Bangladesh. On 27 August, the health ministry gave permission for Sinovac's trial.
Professor Nazrul Islam said not giving permission for the August vaccine trial was a wrong decision.