On average more than 1.5 lakh people received the first shot of their Covid-19 vaccines each day at the beginning of the countrywide inoculation drive. But a very small number of people are now getting the first dose as there is not enough supply of the required doses from India under the deal.
There is also uncertainty over administering the second jab to all those who took their first doses with the vaccine stock running out fast.
The ongoing vaccination programme is a work in the country's health sector that has been done in the most effective way in recent time. People from all walks of life have expressed satisfaction over the mass immunisation of the Covid vaccine under the government's management.
But the programme might get hampered because of the vaccine crisis.
Bangladesh now has only 27 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 18-20 days.
The country rolled out mass inoculation on 7 February with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by India's Serum Institute. People are receiving the jab at 1,005 centres across the country every day except holidays.
In the first week of the vaccination drive, on average 1,29,000 people got vaccinated daily. In the second week, the average number of vaccine recipients stood at 2,33,000 daily. On 18 February, 2,61,945 people were vaccinated, the highest in a day. But the number of first dose recipients has now come down to only 15,000 on average per day.
According to the master plan of the health directorate, one crore people were supposed to be vaccinated in the first two months since the vaccination drive began.
The government had planned to give the first and second doses of the vaccine to 1.5 crore people in five months. But two and a half months into the rollout of mass inoculation, only 57.76 lakh people have received the first dose.
On 7 April, the second dose inoculation began. Some 1.81 lakh people have been administered the second shot till now.
Out of three crore doses of vaccine, Bangladesh has so far received 70 lakh doses in two consignments. The vaccine consignment scheduled for March has not come yet, and there is uncertainty about availing the supply of April.
In the meantime, the US ban on exporting raw materials critical for vaccine production coupled with India's struggle to meet domestic demand with a sharp rise in daily Covid cases have made it all the more uncertain to get vaccine doses from India anytime soon.
The health directorate has sent letters to Beximco Pharmaceuticals, asking it to supply the vaccine. It has also sent a letter to the Serum Institute of India.
Experts say Bangladesh is in crisis because it relies on a single source of vaccine. In September last year, the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19 suggested that the government continue its efforts to communicate with more than one source to collect vaccines.
The committee also advised the government to deposit money in advance to get the vaccine quickly.
But the government has just procured the Oxford vaccine. Although China's Sinovac showed an interest in conducting vaccine trials in Bangladesh, it did not happen because of Bangladesh's government indecision.
In all the countries where vaccination is being rolled out, more than one vaccine is being given. Even in India, Bharat Biotech's Covaxin alongside the Oxford vaccine is being given to its citizens. India has also given clearance for the use of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine.
Professor Sayedur Rahman, chairman of the Department of Pharmacology of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, told the Business Standard, "From the beginning, we have been advocating for procuring vaccines from multiple sources. But even then, the government relied on a single source."
There is still a chance to overcome this crisis. Now, the government should take a lease on two private vaccine manufacturing plants for a long time to produce the Russian vaccine. Besides, the vaccine manufacturing plant at the government's Institute of Public Health needs to be modernised, he added.
Professor Sayedur said the administering of the first dose should be stopped for now. Because all the first dose recipients have to be given the second shot. However, it is a relief that the second dose can be taken 12 to 16 weeks after the first dose.
"So we still have 2-3 months. During this period, vaccines should be procured as soon as possible from countries other than India, where Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are being produced," he added.
The government has now begun work on purchasing the vaccine from sources other than Oxford-AstraZeneca. In the meantime, a five-member committee has been formed to review the vaccine proposals of various companies. The government will decide on vaccine procurement within the next seven days after the committee submits reports on the efficiency of the companies' vaccines.
On the other hand, Russia has proposed manufacturing its Sputnik V vaccine in Bangladesh in collaboration with the local pharmaceuticals under a co-production arrangement.
"We agreed with them (Russia) in co-production [of vaccine]…though it has not been finalised yet," Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen told BSS in a recent interview.
As per the proposal, Russia will give the technology, and Bangladeshi pharmaceutical companies will produce the Sputnik vaccine here, he said.
"If things go well… it will be cheaper and hopefully it will be better," he added.
Professor Dr Nazmul Islam, director of Communicable Disease Control and Spokesperson of the health directorate, told TBS, "We definitely have a vaccine crisis. But we still believe we will get the vaccine. If another consignment of vaccine doses arrives, there will be no more tension. The government is making every effort to bring in vaccine doses from Serum."
Prof Dr Nazmul said so far, they have no plan to stop the inoculation of the first dose.
"We will also get the vaccine from Covax. We are also trying to buy vaccines from other sources. We hope that the supply chain will continue and that vaccination will go on throughout the year," he added.
It may be mentioned that the government has set a target to vaccinate 14 crore people in the country within two years.