DHAKA: Bangladesh’s government is urgently searching for COVID-19 vaccines for its population of 170 million, with health officials saying on Wednesday that it is considering a proposal by Russia to manufacture its Sputnik vaccine locally.
“We received a proposal from Russia to manufacture the Sputnik vaccine in Bangladesh with their technological assistance,” Dr. A.S.M. Alamgir, Chief Scientific Officer of the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), told Arab News.
“We are assessing the proposal and may get a clearer picture in the next two to three days. At least three local companies can manufacture this vaccine.”
Bangladesh began its nationwide inoculation drive on Feb. 7 with the Serum Institute of India’s (SII) Covishield vaccine.
India donated 2 million doses of Covishield to Bangladesh during the last week of January, with another 1.2 million doses given during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit in March.
Under an agreement signed with the SII in November last year, the SII said it would export 30 million doses of Covishield, at $4 per shot, to Dhaka by June.
However, Bangladesh has received only 7 million doses, with uncertainty surrounding the delivery of the next few batches, following New Delhi’s temporary ban on the export of locally manufactured vaccines recently to meet domestic demand amid an unprecedented spike in COVID-19 cases. This has forced Bangladesh to shop for the crucial jabs elsewhere.
“We are desperately looking for other sources of COVID-19 vaccines as, currently, we are short of around 1.8 million doses for the second dose of the vaccine,” Dr. Alamgir said.
According to official data, nearly 5.8 million people have received the first dose of the Covishield vaccine, while more than 7.3 million people above 40 years of age have registered for the vaccination.
More than 1.7 million people have received both doses of the Covishield vaccine.
Dr. Alamgir said that, based on available stocks, the national inoculation drive could continue “for only one and a half months more.”
“We are trying our best so that the country doesn’t face any crisis regarding the vaccine. However, we are still expecting 3-5 million doses of Covishield from the SII by the end of this month,” Dr. Alamgir said.
He noted that it would be more economical for Bangladesh to make the vaccines at home.
On Tuesday, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said Russia had offered to either export around 25 million doses of the Sputnik vaccine to Bangladesh or help in manufacturing them locally in phases by December this year.
Besides studying Russia’s proposal, Dr. Alamgir said Dhaka is also trying to get the vaccines from the US and China.
“By the first week of May, we are also expecting 2 million vaccines from Covax,” he said, referring to the vaccine initiative by the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunization (Gavi).
Health experts said it was important for Bangladesh to explore all “possible sources” for the vaccines without further delay.
“We need to inoculate around 120 million people to achieve herd immunity, and it should be done as quickly as possible,” said Professor Muzaherul Huq, former adviser of the South-East Asia region, World Health Organization (WHO).
He said that the proposal to manufacture the Sputnik locally was a good idea.
“At present, Bangladesh needs to get involved with the COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing,” Prof. Huq, who is also the founder of Bangladesh’s Public Health Foundation, said.
Dr. Mohammad Mushtuq Husain, an adviser of the IEDCR, agreed that producing the Sputnik vaccine at home would keep the country “ahead” in terms of “mitigating the huge demand of vaccines at the moment”.
“Currently, Sputnik is being used in some countries of Africa and South America. So Bangladesh can consider it too if we want to inoculate 80 percent of our population,” Dr. Husain said.