Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has called for ensuring maximum transparency, at all levels, to eliminate any controversy and confusion in the procurement and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, says a press release.
According to the release, the organisation urged that all related laws and regulations to prevent irregularities and corruption be followed, at any cost, in this large-scale vaccination programme.
TIB said the recurrence of rampant corruption – that took place at the beginning of the pandemic in the health sector in the name of urgent purchases required for the medical activities of Covid-19 – must be avoided.
In the press release, TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said, "The way the Ministry of Health tried to call its trade agreement with India's Serum Institute a G2G [Government-to-Government] agreement is unwanted. Similarly, the government failed to clarify which policy it followed to fix the price being given to Beximco as the cost of the vaccine and their commission. It is not clear what policy or procedure was followed, or the rationale or consideration behind it. This is contrary to the transparency of government procurement at any level."
"In this case, it is important for all concerned to remember that the pandemic should not be turned into a festival of pocket-filling through unjust benefits for anyone," he added.
Observing that the health ministry has been indecisive about vaccine procurement since the beginning of the pandemic, Iftekharuzzaman said, "Although it was primarily decided to run a trial of Chinese vaccine Sinovac, after several months of dilly-dallying, it was cancelled."
"In the midst of the controversy over the uncertainty of getting the vaccine, domestic company Globe Biotech got the necessary approval to run the vaccine trial. At the same time, Chinese company Anhui Yifei's idea of running a trial of its vaccine was criticised," he continued.
"Despite the complexity of the conservation, it was decided to collect Pfizer vaccines as part of the Covax initiative. Whereas according to government assessments, 56 districts, out of the total 64, do not have quality special cooling systems. It needs to be clarified on what basis the decision was taken," he added.
"Although the government plans to vaccinate 80% of the population free of charge, there is a risk of creating confusion about the implementation process. It was initially said that the second dose would be given one month after the first dose. But now the Health Department says the second dose will be given after eight weeks, not four weeks," he explained.
"In this case, the big issue is the government did not make it clear at all as to why and how the decision was changed; what is the scientific explanation behind it or whether the expert committee has been consulted or not. Similarly, there is no clear idea among the people about who will get the vaccine first," he said.
"It is important to keep in mind that the success of such a large-scale immunisation programme depends largely on how transparently confidence is built among the people," he highlighted.
"If this immunisation programme is not successful, on the one hand, the return to normalcy and the process of economic recovery will be hampered, and on the other hand, the purpose of spending more than Tk4,000 crore on a free immunisation programme will be useless," added TIB's executive director.