“India will start sending vaccines again from the coming month,” he said at a Dhaka Reporters Unity event on Tuesday. “All of the vaccines from India will arrive by the first quarter of next year.”
The Serum Institute of India, the largest vaccine manufacturing company in the world, is producing the Oxford-AstraZeneca created COVID vaccine and selling it under the name COVISHIELD.
In November last year, the Bangladesh government signed an agreement to buy 30 million doses of the vaccine from the company. The government then paid Tk 6 billion in advance, nearly half the cost of the vaccines.
According to the agreement, the vaccine would be shipped from India to Bangladesh by Beximco Pharmaceuticals in Bangladesh, which would act as the sole distributor. Salman F Rahman is the vice-chairman of Beximco Group.
According to the agreement, Bangladesh was to receive 5 million doses a month. The first shipment of 5 million doses arrived on Jan 25 and the second shipment, of 2 million doses, arrived on Feb 23.
India also gifted Bangladesh 2 million doses of COVISHIELD on Jan 21 and another 1.2 million on Mar 26.
However, by April, the pandemic situation in India had deteriorated dramatically, leading to the government banning the export of coronavirus vaccines.
Bangladesh then depleted its vaccine stock and had to halt the administration of the first dose of the vaccine on Apr 25. It later stopped administering the second dose as well.
Finally, the government signed an agreement with China’s Sinopharm to get their version of the COVID vaccine. Most of the vaccines used in Bangladesh’s current programme are from China or were procured through the international vaccine platform COVAX.
In the midst of the second wave of infections, India focused on vaccinating its own populace before exporting. Once the pandemic situation eased in October, Indian Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya announced they would resume exports.
After a lengthy delay, another 1 million COVISHIELD vaccines previously purchased by Bangladesh arrived on Oct 9. That was, however, the last shipment received so far.
Bangladesh is still awaiting another 22 million vaccines from India. Salman F Rahman says they will start coming in December.
Regarding the progress of initiatives to produce the COVID vaccine in Bangladesh, he said:
“We have the complete ability to produce the Incepta vaccine. Once terms and conditions are agreed with China, we will be able to launch production.”
Beximco expects to ‘gain the ability’ to produce vaccines within the next four to six weeks, Salman F Rahman added.
The Bangladesh government, Incepta Vaccine Limited and Sinopharm signed an agreement in August to bring the COVID vaccine to Bangladesh before bottling and distributing it.
Under the agreement, the vaccine would be brought in bulk from China before being put into vials and labelled by Incepta. The government will then purchase the vaccines from them.
If all goes well, Incepta will begin production work on the vaccine ‘within three months’, Minister of Health Zahid Maleque had said at the time. However, there have been no updates on the situation since.