In the midst of hopes that a coronavirus vaccine could be ready by early next year, the government of Bangladesh has asked for more than USD 1.5 billion from development partners to procure and distribute the vaccine when it becomes available. According to estimates from the finance ministry, Bangladesh might need between USD 1.65 billion and USD 2 billion to vaccinate the country's 165 million people. As a part of this call for assistance, the finance minister held a virtual meeting with the World Bank Vice President on Thursday and sought USD 500 million from the World Bank to purchase, store, transport and distribute the vaccines.
It is reassuring to see that the government is taking concrete steps and seeking financial assistance to ensure that Bangladeshi citizens have access to a Covid-19 vaccine as soon as it hits the markets. As the World Bank management is currently mulling the approval of additional financing of USD 12 billion to help low- and middle-income countries with acquiring the vaccines, it is a good time for Bangladesh to be reaching out. However, we hope the authorities will also be looking elsewhere for financing—while talks have already been initiated with Japan, we also hope that other friendly nations will step forward. Since the government has plans to seek loans from the Asian Development Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as well, there must be careful consideration of the economic risks of too many loans at a time when the stimulus packages to keep our economy afloat are still being distributed. The entire process of acquiring funding as well as using it for the sourcing of vaccines must be completely transparent, and all parties involved must be held accountable in order to discourage any corruption or misuse of funds.
However, financing is only one part of the process of acquiring vaccines, and we urge the authorities to explore all options with regard to the actual sourcing of the vaccine. Last week, the government decided not to co-fund the trials of a Chinese vaccine, and although we are meant to be in talks with the makers of five front-running vaccine candidates, there have been no updates from the authorities in this regard. While we should definitely aim to use the COVAX Facility to acquire vaccines through the WHO and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, we must also explore cutting deals with governments and global pharmaceutical companies in order to not lag behind in the global race for a coronavirus vaccine.