The government may allow human trial of three vaccine candidates in the country to enhance the possibility of getting more Covid vaccines, say officials.
Health Secretary Abdul Mannan told The Daily Star yesterday that allowing clinical trial of vaccine candidates is part of the government's initiatives to find more sources of vaccines.
"If any vaccine producer gives us detailed [research] data, we will make decisions based on that...," he noted.
Now three foreign companies are moving ahead with their plans to run last-stage human trial of their vaccine candidates in Bangladesh. They are India's Bharat Biotech, and China's Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biologic Pharmacy and the Institute of Medical Biology Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences.
Besides, Bangladeshi company Globe Biotech Ltd will submit to Bangladesh Medical Research Council (BMRC) a proposal for conducting first-stage human trial of its vaccine candidate, say officials of the firm.
3 VACCINE CANDIDATES
The icddr,b has applied to the BMRC for permission to run third-stage clinical trial of "COVAXIN" developed by Bharat Biotech.
Contacted, BMRC Director Dr Mahmood-uz-jahan declined to comment on the issue.
"It is not ethically right to comment on such research-related issue. You will know when it will be made public."
Meanwhile, the authorities of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) and Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biologic Pharmacy are working to finalise a plan to run last-stage human trial of the Chinese firm's vaccine candidate. The two sides last week agreed to run the trial.
Prof Kanak Kanti Barua, vice chancellor of the BSMMU, told The Daily Star recently, "We have replied to them [Anhui Zhifei]. We will run the trial… It will require time to complete the procedures."
Besides, the Institute of Medical Biology Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences is planning to run last-stage human trial through a private research organisation in Bangladesh, a health official told this newspaper, seeking anonymity.
Bangladesh has so far confirmed purchase of Covid vaccines from two sources. Three crore doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines will come from Serum Institute of India (SII) and another 6.8 crore shots from global initiative called COVAX.
Recently, the COVAX, co-led by WHO, GAVI, CEPI, offered four lakh doses of Pfizer vaccine to Bangladesh to vaccinate its frontline workers. The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius while the SII vaccine can be kept at 2-8 degrees Celsius.
Talking to this newspaper yesterday, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said, "We will take Pfizer vaccine. We have enough storage capacity for that."
Earlier on Monday, Prof ABM Khurshid Alam, director general at the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), said the government was exploring the existing storage capacity to that end.
According to health ministry officials, the government is also thinking about allowing private companies to import Covid vaccines to sell those in the domestic market.
'SELECT RIGHT VACCINE'
Experts have called for prompt exploration of sources of those vaccines, which will give the Bangladeshi population herd immunity for a long time and are cost-effective and compatible with the country's cold chain infrastructure.
At a recent discussion, a number of experts said it is uncertain how long the vaccines approved so far will give immunity. Besides, if the novel coronavirus mutates regularly like the influenza virus, there may a need for regular vaccination.
There should be two vaccination goals -- one is to reduce mortality and morbidity, and the other is to gain herd immunity, they said.
"India has planned smartly to vaccinate 26 crore people aged above 50. It will help reduce the number of deaths. We should also take such a strategy for now. In the future, we may get single-dose vaccines that may provide lifelong immunity," said Prof Md Sayedur Rahman, chairman at the BSMMU's pharmacology department.
"Some of the vaccine candidates which are at the second stage of human trial are single-dose and suitable for our existing cold chain. Those can even be stored in normal temperature in the country," he told this newspaper yesterday.
Sayedur said Bangladeshi researchers should get in touch with those vaccine inventors to be part of their research.
He also mentioned that if Bangladesh allows human trial of vaccine candidates, it may have three advantages -- priority in getting vaccines, preferential pricing and technology transfer.
If any delay occurs in making decisions on such trial, it will happen not because of the scientific community, but due to other players in the decision-making process, noted Sayedur, also a member of BMRC's Ethical Review Committee.
According to the Ney York Times Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker, eight vaccines, including that of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca, have so far been approved by the US, the UK and several other countries for emergency use.
Besides, 20 vaccine candidates are at the final stage of human trial and another 21 at the second stage.