Despite the uncertainty over getting Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from India, the government is adamant on giving people their first shot of the Covid vaccine while administering the second shot to those who received their first jab earlier.
They called for the immediate suspension of giving the first dose until the country received vaccines, be it from Serum Institute of India or from other sources.
The government has around 27 lakh doses of the vaccine remaining.
An official of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said those would run out within 10-12 days if the vaccination went on at this pace.
Iqbal Arslan, president of Swadhinata Chikitshak Parishad or Swachip, said, "I don't think that we will get the vaccines soon. So my personal opinion is that administration of the first dose should be stopped. If we cannot administer the second dose, then the first shot will be a waste."
Md Sayedur Rahman, chairman of pharmacology department at the BSMMU, said, "The government should focus on the second dose. If needed, the government should purchase the Oxford vaccine from other sources at higher prices. The inoculation of first dose should be stopped right away."
He said the government should restart giving people their first shots once it has enough vaccines.
The government said it was trying to get vaccines early next month to ensure a smooth vaccination campaign.
"The ongoing vaccination will be continued. Both the first and second doses will go on simultaneously. Now, our concern is to bring vaccine from any of the sources before the stock exhausts," Health Minister Zahid Maleque told The Daily Star yesterday.
He also said they were in close contact with other sources to avail Chinese and Russian vaccines.
"We are even in talks to get the Oxford vaccine from other sources," said the health minister, without providing details.
"We have given permission to Sinopharm [from China] and received five lakh doses," he said, adding that the government was ready to receive any amount of vaccine Sinopharm could offer.
The minister also said the same message was sent regarding the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. "We are getting positive responses from the alternative sources. We are hopeful that we will get vaccines before the stock exhausts."
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told journalists that Russia has recently agreed to coproduce the Russian Sputnik V vaccine in Bangladesh.
He claimed that apart from the coproduction, Bangladesh would buy the vaccines from Russia.
" … they cannot fulfil the demand of Bangladesh. That's why they agreed to give us the formula but Bangladesh cannot share it with others," he claimed.
Regarding the uncertainty of getting vaccines from Serum, Nazmul Hassan Papon, managing director of Beximco, Serum's agent in Bangladesh, said Serum did not inform them anything about delays and that Serum was waiting for permission from the Ministry of External Affairs of India for exporting vaccines.
"We are hopeful that we will get vaccines and the ongoing vaccination programme will not be hampered," he said.
Papon said they were also trying to get the same vaccines from other sources.
"We have written to AstraZeneca yesterday [Wednesday] to allow us to purchase vaccines from other sources. Serum is dedicated for this region. The same vaccine is produced in Thailand and South Korea. So we are trying to get vaccines from those sources too."
Serum CEO Adar Poonawalla in an interview to NDTV yesterday said, "There is no clarity on exports and we also right now feel that we should not look at exports for two months during these cases. Maybe in June-July, we could start looking at small exports starting again.
"Right now, we are going to prioritise the needs of the nation [India] first."
The development comes when 75,77,889 jabs of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine out of 1.02 crore shots in stock were administered in Bangladesh, as of yesterday.
Bangladesh on December 13 last year signed a deal with Beximco to buy three crore doses of Covishield, the brand Serum used for Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines.
As per the deal, the government was supposed to get 50 lakh doses a month. But until yesterday, it only received 70 lakh doses in two instalments.
The Indian government had sent 33 lakh doses as gift.
Amid a steep rise in Covid cases in India and reports of shortage of vaccines, the Indian government reportedly paused vaccine exports last month to meet domestic demand.
Poonawalla said this situation would continue until at least July.
With Serum failing to comply with the agreement, Bangladesh government started exploring alternative sources for the shots in a desperate attempt to continue the ongoing inoculation drive.
Meanwhile, Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram Doraiswami said India would try its best to supply Covid-19 vaccines to Bangladesh.
"We cannot do more than we have. But what we can assure Bangladesh is, we will do our best to ensure that within the limit of physical production -- whatever we can share -- we will share," he said.
Terming India's relationship with Bangladesh "very special", he said, "We are all working together to try and deal with the crisis that we have."
India is in a very difficult situation right now, he said, adding, "We are all trying together. Let's see how best we can cooperate for the best interest of both the countries."