Bangladesh's refusal to co-fund the trials of a Chinese Covid-19 vaccine has narrowed down its options for getting vaccines when they will be ready, experts said.
The government insists that it is in talks with makers of five front-running vaccine candidates. But its efforts are not visible compared to the frantic efforts being made by many countries, they said.
A number of countries have already made investments to get vaccines from companies that were conducting phase-III trials but the Bangladesh government is yet to make that move, they said.
And time is running out.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said a vaccine for the coronavirus disease could be ready for registration by the year end or early next year.
The first vaccine safety trial for humans began in March and five vaccine candidates have so far been approved for limited use. At least 11 more have reached the final stages of testing, according to the New York Times Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker.
On Tuesday, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said Bangladesh would not co-fund the domestic trials of a vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd, Reuters reported.
Beijing-based Sinovac last month commenced phase-III trials of CoronaVac vaccine in Turkey.
With CoronaVac's phase-III testing in Bangladesh now uncertain, the government has two options left for getting vaccines, according to the experts.
It could get 20 percent of the vaccines it needs from the WHO and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) under the COVAX Facility, a mechanism designed to guarantee rapid, fair, and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines worldwide.
The second option is deals with pharmaceutical companies or governments.
Experts said the first option was complicated due to the number of countries in queue and massive global demand.
COVAX currently covers nine vaccine candidates and its aim is to secure supply and delivery of two billion shots by the end of 2021 to the over 170 countries that sign up.
There is no visible effort by the government for going into deals with companies or countries but it has been making arrangements for funds.
Officials said the government has communicated with US companies Moderna, Phizer, UK's AstraZeneca, India's Bharat Biotech Ltd, and Russia and China.
Moderna has a vaccine candidate but the company is yet to put any product in the market.
Details of the communications with the companies and countries could not be known.
"We have enough funds. If we see the need, we will buy vaccines on top of the supply from GAVI … we will buy [from other sources]," Prof ABM Khurshid Alam, director general of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), told The Daily Star on Tuesday.
He said there was an allocation of $150 million under a project and the government has allocated additional funds from revenue. Besides, it has also sought funds from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank.
Prof Khurshid said, "We are waiting … the ministry will give us a directive about to whom to make an advance payment."
A DGHS official said the issue of vaccines was being handled by government high-ups and that was why officials at the DGHS could not say anything concrete.
"The government has allocated funds, which is good. But we do not know the exact progress made in getting the vaccine," Prof Nazrul Islam, member of the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC), told The Daily Star.
"The government is not saying anything clearly. They say they have been communicating. But have they disclosed in what quantity we will get the vaccine?" he said.
The government should not sit idle with funds, he said.
Prof Sayedur Rahman, chairman of Pharmacology at the BSMMU, said, "We have to select the vaccine which is suitable for our existing cold chain. We should not go for something that requires elaborate arrangements to preserve and carry."
Cold chain is the refrigerated delivery and preservation system of vaccines.
However, Prof Sayedur said the government should be more careful and should wait until a sustainable and affordable vaccine is developed.
The experts suggested continuing the communication with multiple potential vaccine sources and keeping all channels open.
Sixteen people died from Covid-19 in the country in 24 hours ending at 8:00am yesterday, taking the death toll to 5,593, according to a press release issued by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
The death rate stood at 1.46 percent.
A total of 1,684 new infections were recorded during the time, taking the total number of people infected to 3,82,959, it said. The labs across the country tested 14,411 samples.
Yesterday's positivity rate was 11.69 percent while the total positivity rate was 18.13 percent.
Bangladesh is currently 16th on the list of worst affected countries in terms of the number of cases.