The government now looks to procure vaccines from China and Russia to meet the ongoing crisis triggered by the non-availability of required doses from India as per the agreement.
A high-level meeting chaired by Prime Minister's Principal Secretary Ahmad Kaikaus might reach a decision on vaccine imports from the two countries on Sunday (Monday), Professor Dr ABM Khurshid Alam, director-general of the Directorate General of Health Services, told The Business Standard.
Besides, the government has decided to invite an international tender to buy vaccines, including Oxford-AstraZeneca developed Covishield and Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which can be stored at temperatures between 2°C and 8°C. Work is underway to finalise various conditions and documents of the proposed tender.
Health ministry officials say Chinese vaccine maker Sinopharm has sent a proposal to supply 60 lakh doses to Bangladesh through a third party. Several companies have also applied to the health ministry as a third party about three months ago, showing interest in importing Russia's vaccine Sputnik V and supplying it to the Bangladesh government.
The government also expects to get some vaccine doses from Covax in the first half of May. Covax is collecting the Oxford vaccine from South Korea after India has imposed a ban on all exports of the Oxford vaccine made by India's Serum Institute.
The government believes that it will be possible to continue the ongoing inoculation drive if Bangladesh gets the required doses from there.
Meanwhile, the director-general of the health directorate said they sent a letter to Beximco Pharmaceuticals and the Serum Institute of India last Saturday to supply vaccine doses to the government as per the deal.
In the letter, the health directorate has asked for a total of 1 crore doses of vaccine, including 50 lakh doses of March and 5o lakh of April, this month. They also urged the two companies to supply one crore doses scheduled for May and June on time.
Covax is expected to supply 6.8 crore doses of vaccine to Bangladesh. In the first shipment, it was supposed to give two crore doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca to Bangladesh towards the end of March. But Covax through a mail informed that it would supply the doses in the first week of May as it was facing a vaccine crisis because of India's ban on the Oxford vaccine export.
Health ministry officials say Covax has continued to try to collect vaccine doses from Serum despite India's export ban. AstraZeneca, the developer of Covishield, sent a notice to Serum on April 8 for not supplying doses to Covax as per the agreement.
Dr ASM Alamgir, principal scientific officer of the IEDCR and member of the Covid-19 Vaccine Preparedness and Deployment Core Committee, told TBS, "We are also trying to get the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine through Covax to continue the first and the second shot."
"Covax is collecting Oxford vaccine doses from South Korea alongside Serum. We are trying to get that vaccine. Even if it is available in mid-May, there will be no interruption in our vaccination programme," he added.
Alamgir said the government would buy three crore more doses of vaccine through an open tender. Vaccines of the companies that can be stored at temperatures between 2°C and 8°C will be given priority if they take part in the tender.
As per a deal with India's Serum Institute and Beximco, the Bangladesh government was supposed to get 50 lakh doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine every month. Bangladesh has so far received 70 lakh doses in two shipments under the deal.
The first consignment of 50 lakh doses of Oxford vaccine arrived in Dhaka from India on 25 January this year. Later, the second batch of 20 lakh doses from Serum arrived here on 22 February.
Besides, a consignment of 20 lakh doses, gifted by India, reached Dhaka on 21 January, and another consignment of 12 lakh doses, also gifted by India, arrived in Dhaka on 26 March.
Bangladesh has not yet received the remaining 30 lakh doses of February and 50 lakh doses of March and April as per the agreement.
Following India's ban on all exports of the Oxford vaccine made by Serum last month, Salman F Rahman, prime minister's private industry and investment adviser, had told The Business Standard that the Indian government assured that Bangladesh would remain out of the purview of the ban and would get supplies as per demand whenever necessary.
Salman F Rahman could not be contacted on the phone yesterday despite repeated attempts.
However, an official of Beximco said, "Officials of the Indian High Commission in Dhaka had assured of supplying the vaccine to Bangladesh as per the demand. But they are now not keeping their promise. So, we have nothing to do now."
India's Serum Institute has agreed to give the vaccine to Bangladesh, but it cannot supply it owing to the ban imposed by the Indian government. The tripartite agreement among the health ministry, Beximco Pharmaceuticals and Serum Institute of India also states that the vaccine cannot be imported without the prior approval of the Indian government, he added.
Bangladesh rolled out mass inoculation on 7 February with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by India's Serum Institute, and more than 57.14 lakh citizens have so far been immunised. On 7 April, the second dose inoculation began. Some 1.36 lakh people have been administered the second shot till now.
Bangladesh now has only 31.19 lakh doses of vaccine out of 1.2 crore doses.
More than one and a half lakh people are now getting vaccinated every day on average. If this continues, the vaccine doses will run out in the next 20-22 days.
Dr ASM Alamgir said, "We slowed down the first dose immunisation. We will be able to vaccinate people with the second jab till mid-May the way the current per day inoculation rate continues. As the second dose can be given between eight weeks and three months, we are trying to avail vaccine during the break period."
Meanwhile, India, the world's largest vaccine supplier, has also taken an initiative to import Sputnik V in the wake of the Covid vaccine crisis as the second wave accelerates.
The country, which typically produces 60% of vaccines sold globally, now cannot manufacture the Covid-19 vaccine at full capacity because of the US ban on exporting raw materials critical for vaccine production and the EU's similar restrictions around vaccine exports. So, India is now working to adapt to the materials which are made at home or the neighbouring countries like Singapore," but this will take time, reported CNN.