Amid uncertainty over receiving the next consignment of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from Serum Institute of India (SII), the government has moved to procure vaccines from other inventors.
The government has already spoken to the Chinese and Russian ambassadors in Dhaka to purchase vaccines called BBIBP-CorV and Sputnik V respectively.
China's Sinofarm created BBIBP-CorV vaccine while Russia's Gamaleya Research Institute invented Sputnik V.
Both the vaccines have already been authorized and are being used in many countries, although the World Health Organization is yet to certify those.
"I personally spoke to the Chinese and the Russian ambassadors recently. I informed them that Bangladesh wants to procure vaccines from them," Health Minister Zahid Maleque told The Daily Star yesterday.
He said, "We asked them to let us know the price, quantity, terms and conditions, and how long it will take them to supply."
The minister also said that they have already assigned an additional secretary of the health ministry to communicate with the two vaccine producing companies constantly and expedite the process.
"We are now waiting for their reply," he said.
On December 30 last year, Sinopharm announced that the vaccine has an efficacy of 79.34 percent, which led the Chinese government to approve it. However, the United Arab Emirates, which approved a Sinopharm vaccine earlier that month, said the vaccine was 86 percent effective, according to interim results of its phase-three trial.
Russia approved the Sputnik V vaccine for domestic use In August 2020.
"In the time of pandemic, the Russia and China made vaccines are saving millions of lives. Those vaccines are being used in many other countries across the world. It's a good move from the [Bangladesh] government," Md Sayedur Rahman, chairman of the pharmacology department at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, told The Daily Star yesterday.
The government has signed an agreement of purchasing three crore doses of vaccines from Serum Institute of India through its local agent Beximco.
As per the agreement, the government was supposed to get 50 lakh doses of vaccines each month.
But till yesterday, the government has only received 70 lakh doses of vaccines in two instalments.
In the meantime, New Delhi reportedly imposed a temporary restriction on all major exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine made by SII to meet demands at home, reported global media.
Apart from these, on January 21 Bangladesh received 20 lakh doses as a token of friendship from India while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought 12 lakh doses with him when he came to join the country's golden jubilee celebration.
However, the third shipment of the doses purchased by Bangladesh from SII is still uncertain.
Contacted, Nazmul Hassan Papon, managing director of Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd, said, "We are yet to get any date of the vaccine shipment's arrival. We are expecting that by next week we will be able to get details of the next consignment."
Besides, the Covax programme, led by the World Health Organisation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has committed to give Bangladesh a total of 6.8 crore vaccine shots. As part of the commitment, the country is expected to receive 10,908,000 shots of the Oxford vaccine by May.
Asked about the current status, the health minister said they were yet to get any update from Covax.
With the vaccine stock depleting and uncertainty looming over getting the purchased vaccine from SII as scheduled, the on-going vaccination campaign appears set to suffer.
But the government has decided to continue the mass inoculation campaign as planned.
"We had a meeting to discuss the inoculation programme and have decided to continue the way it is across the country. There is no change in the plan. We will keep on administering the first dose," Prof Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora, additional director general of Directorate General of Health Services, told The Daily Star yesterday.
Meanwhile, health officials said injecting the second dose of the vaccination will start from April 8.
The government has so far inoculated 54,98,172 people, while 69,15,222 people have gotten registered with Surokkha app for vaccination.