The vaccination campaign in Bangladesh is set to suffer a major setback as, according to the CEO of the Serum Institute of India, "there is no clarity" on vaccine exports from India at least before June-July. In an interview published on April 21, he said that Serum is now focusing on providing all its vaccines to the Indian government amidst a steep rise in the number of daily infections in the country and is not looking to export any of them for the next two months.
As per an agreement signed in December, the Bangladesh government was supposed to get 50 lakh doses of Covishield from Serum each month. So far, it has only received 70 lakh doses in two instalments and another 32 lakh doses as a gift from the Indian government. With Serum failing to comply with the agreement to supply three crore jabs of Covishield in six instalments, the Bangladesh government's nationwide vaccination programme now seems to be in a bind. Last week, health officials said that with the remaining stock of vaccines, the government will only be able to continue the vaccination programme for another 15 days. That means there will be no vaccines left soon and many people will continue to remain totally unvaccinated, while others might not receive their second shot without which they will also be vulnerable to the disease.
Moreover, as experts have been saying often, the key target is to achieve herd immunity, which will require vaccinating about 80 percent of the population. That means the government must continue its vaccination programme if it is to vaccinate anywhere near 80 percent of the population any time soon. Until then, the virus will continue to be a major threat. This is especially why we have been repeatedly saying in this column that the government should have back-up plans and look for alternative sources of Covid-19 vaccines. Why these suggestions have been ignored is bewildering.
Now, with this most recent development, the government seems to be finally scrambling towards finding alternative sources for the vaccine. This should have been done a long time ago. However, now that we are in this situation, the government must not delay any further. It should immediately start searching for and making other arrangements to acquire the Covid-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, it should try and find a diplomatic solution with India, and remind Serum that it has an agreement with Bangladesh that it should honour.