The National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC) has recommended that vaccine trials for Covid-19 be carried out in Bangladesh, so that the country can get the vaccine on a priority basis and develop immunity to the virus.
The technical body – formed to advise the government on tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and improving the quality of medical services at hospitals – put forward a number of suggestions at its 17th meeting, headed by Professor Dr Mohammad Shahidullah on Wednesday.
The committee made the proposal for clinical trials considering the importance of vaccines in combating the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The NTAC added that the United Kingdom, United States, China, India and Russia are at the forefront of vaccine research, while other countries are also participating in the third phase of clinical trials.
The third phase of the Oxford University vaccine trial is being carried out in Brazil and India, while the Chinese Sinovac vaccine is being tested in Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Chile, Philippines and Turkey.
A clinical trial of the vaccine in Bangladesh will increase our capacity [to evaluate it] and create opportunities to prove ourselves. In addition, if this vaccine proves successful, there will be a guarantee of getting it first, the committee pointed out.
Recommending comprehensive planning on the Covid-19 vaccine, the committee proposed that the Bangladesh government should start contacting different international drug companies, who are now on an advanced level of the vaccine trial, to ensure our access to the vaccine as soon as it gets approval.
The committee also estimated the number of vaccines needed in the country and its approximate cost, along with the fast-track vaccine collection plan.
Moreover, the NTAC recommended making preparations in advance for an effective vaccination plan, by ensuring an adequate number of syringes, vaccine storage facilities, distribution, management, manpower and identifying high-risk populations.
Currently, 200 organisations and research firms are working across the globe on Covid-19 vaccine development and industrial-scale production. Among them, Oxford University of the UK, Chinese Sinovac, US Moderna and Australia's Murdoch Children's Research Institute have begun human trials.
Six vaccines are currently at the level-3 trial phase, while Russia approved its vaccine on August 11.
Many countries are signing agreements with the biotech companies and paying in advance so that they can get the shots if the vaccines succeed. However, Bangladesh is yet to strike any such vaccine deal.
Experts say a vaccine trial in the country does not guarantee the availability of the vaccine for free, but it will give an opportunity for a negotiation to get it at a lower price. Technology can also be exchanged through the trial.
Some vaccines will be free, while some others will be at low cost, they added.
Prof Sayedur Rahman, chairman of the Bangladesh Pharmacological Society, said, "We have two vaccine manufacturing plants which can be used for vaccine production through negotiation.
"Infection rates in other countries are not yet as high as in Bangladesh, so others will come to Bangladesh for research."
The Bangladesh Medical Research Council (BMRC) gave the go-ahead to the Phase 3 trial of a Covid-19 vaccine developed by the Chinese company Sinovac Biotech on July 19.
The clinical trials of Sinovac's vaccine – scheduled for the first week of August in Bangladesh – now remain stalled for unknown reasons.
On August 13, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said he will meet with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to discuss the Covid-19 vaccine purchases next week.
The meeting will also decide whether China-based Sinovac would be allowed to conduct trial runs of their shots in Bangladesh. But no meeting between the prime minister and health minister took place this week.
In the meantime, Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla visited Bangladesh this week.
After meeting with Harsh Vardhan Shringla on August 19, Bangladesh's Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen told the media, "We offered our assistance, if needed. Especially in terms of vaccine trial, we are ready.
"India gave assurances that it will provide vaccines to Bangladesh on a priority basis."