As confusion continues over the price of Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, the government and the Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd have reiterated that Bangladesh will get the vaccine at the same price India is paying.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque said there was no scope for deviating from the tripartite agreement signed between the government, the Serum Institute of India (SII) and its local partner Beximco.
Beximco Pharmaceuticals Managing Director Nazmul Hassan Papon said Bangladesh would not pay a single cent more than India for the shots branded Covishield.
They made the comments while talking to The Daily Star after Reuters ran a report on Monday that SII would sell the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to Bangladesh at $4 a dose, "about 47 percent more than India will pay for its inoculation campaign".
The same day, the Indian government placed firm orders for over six crore doses, according to Indian median reports.
Serum, which stockpiled 50 million doses of the vaccine in India, has signed an initial deal to sell 11 million of the shots to the Indian government for 200 rupees ($2.72) per dose, said the Reuters report.
Serum is the world's largest vaccine producer by volume.
Following the Reuters report, Bangladesh Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal faced questions from the media about Bangladesh paying more.
"I am not aware whether the price is higher [for Bangladesh]. If India produced [the vaccine], then their production cost will understandably be less … When they would sell it, they would add their expenditure with the profit," he said.
"We cannot expect that we will get [the vaccine] at the price same as their production cost. But we will look into at what price vaccines are being sold in the international market. We will try to control the price at which we will get the vaccines.
"Many countries, not one or two, will produce vaccines. If one country charges more, we will try to go for another country. We have that option," Mustafa Kamal said.
Following the Reuters report and the statement of the finance minister, The Daily Star contacted the health minister and the Beximco authorities.
"We will speak as per our agreement. We will get it [the vaccines] at the same price the Indian authorities purchased from Serum Institute of India. So if India gets the vaccines at prices lower than what has been fixed for us, we will also get the vaccines at lower prices," Zahid Maleque said.
"If India buys the shots at prices lower than us, then it is a good news for us. We will then get more shots from Serum," he said.
The health minister insisted that there was no room for confusion over the prices. "Everything will be done according to the agreement. The lower the price is, the more we will get."
Asked whether the contract will be made public, he said the agreement was signed publicly and claimed that everything written on the papers had already been made public. "The agreement does not have any hidden clause."
The tripartite agreement between the government, Serum and Beximco was signed on November 5 last year to purchase three crore shots of Oxford vaccine from Serum at $4 per shot.
The government has recently said the first instalment of 50 lakh doses would arrive on January 25 and the vaccination would start in the first week of next month.
Each jab, however, will cost the government $5 as it will have to pay Beximco in service charges and for transporting the vaccines to the government vaccination centres.
Contacted, Nazmul Hassan Papon said Bangladesh government would get the vaccine at the same price India is paying and that there was no reason to be worried.
"Bangladesh is purchasing the vaccine at $4 per shot, but it's a tentative price. But if India purchases the vaccine at a lower price, Serum will also reduce the price accordingly for us.
"As per the agreement, there is a guarantee that Serum will give us the vaccine at the same price it sells to India. There is no room for deviation [from it]."
"We will not pay a single cent more [than India]," Papon said.
"Since we are yet to receive the first installment of vaccines, it would be too early to make any comment on what would be the final price. Because India bought each shot at 200 rupees in the first phase and it might go up to 250 rupees," he added.
Earlier in the month, the health minister, the health secretary and the Beximco MD insisted that Bangladesh would get the vaccine at the same price as Indian government.
BEXIMCO TO SELL VACCINES AT PRIVATE MARKET
The drug-maker will import 10 lakh doses from SII for private distribution. Beximco is buying each dose at $8 from SII.
"Among the doses, various pharmaceuticals companies have already ordered for eight lakh doses," Papon told this newspaper.
He said they would sell the vaccine after the commencement of government's mass vaccination programme.
Beximco Chief Operating Officer Rabbur Reza said the price of the vaccine in the private market was yet to be decided.
After arrival of the vaccine, the Directorate General of Drug Administration will fix the price, he said.
He also said Beximco had already sent a proposal to Serum for purchasing another 20 lakh doses.
Contacted, DGDA Director General Maj Gen Md Mahbubur Rahman said the price of the vaccine to be sold in the private market would be finalised under government regulation.