If the vaccines are safe and effective, get them!
With Serum Institute of India failing on its agreement to provide three crore vaccine shots in six instalments, the Bangladesh government has finally started to explore alternative sources for the Covid-19 vaccine. It is about time the government started looking at multiple sources at once. We have been calling for that in this column for some time now, and the experts have been doing the same.
Given the uncertainty created by this pandemic worldwide and the quick mutating nature of the virus, it was injudicious for the government to not consider alternative sources before, particularly considering the large demand for vaccine shots globally. To reach herd immunity, i.e. vaccinate 70 to 80 percent of the population, the government will need millions of shots. And with the risk of new waves of the virus still looming large, one of the best ways to keep people safe is to quickly vaccinate the population.
As this newspaper reported on Tuesday, an eight-member committee formed by the government has suggested acquiring the Sinopharm and Sputnik V vaccines as alternatives. Russia has already offered to sell Bangladesh around 2.5 crore doses of Sputnik V by December this year in phases, or assistance in producing the shots locally. The Russian government has also offered to export a further 3.5 crore doses in phases by April next year. On the other hand, Sinopharm has already committed to giving six lakh doses of the vaccine to Bangladesh free of cost and said they are capable of supplying around 15 lakh doses per week, according to health officials. We believe that the government should try and finalise a deal with both.
However, the problem is that there are 35 lakh people in the country who are now waiting for their second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. As the scientific results of mixing multiple vaccines for different doses are still unclear, it seems they might now be in a difficult situation. In order to give these people their second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine—until there is evidence to suggest they can receive a different vaccine for their second dose—the government should somehow try and acquire the required number of doses.
Meanwhile, in order to avoid a similar situation in future, the government should refrain from making the same mistake again and not put all its eggs in one basket this time. Rather, it should try and get the vaccines from both Russia and China—provided they are safe and effective—and also try and develop local manufacturing capability at the earliest possible time.