With the stock of Covid-19 vaccine depleting fast, the government's mass inoculation programme might soon come to a screeching halt.
The current stock of about six lakh AstraZeneca doses might be gone in a week and the government has yet to strike a deal with any of the potential vaccine suppliers to keep that from happening, officials said.
"We are trying. We have not yet got a positive response from any of the vaccine sources. If we don't get it soon, the vaccination campaign will be suspended," ABM Khurshid Alam, director general of Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), told The Daily Star yesterday.
The government suspended administering the first dose of the vaccine on April 26 over uncertainties of supplies. Online registration for inoculation was suspended on May 5.
"Vaccination has been suspended in Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Kushtia districts due to the shortage of doses," said Shamsul Haque, a line director of the DGHS. He could not say how many of the 2,500 inoculation centres across the country have stopped operation.
The otherwise smooth vaccination campaign stumbled after the Serum Institute of India failed to ship the vaccine purchased by Bangladesh.
Serum was supposed to ship 50 lakh doses a month to Bangladesh over a six-month period starting from January. Serum delivered the first 50 lakh doses as per the deal, but shipped only 20 lakh in February. No other shipment has been made since.
The Indian government restricted export of the vaccine to meet the local demand.
Contacted, Nazmul Hassan Papon, managing director of Beximco Pharmaceuticals Limited, local agent of Serum, said, "We contacted Serum, but have not received any response regarding [when] the next consignment [might arrive]."
Bangladesh is also supposed to get 6.8 crore vaccine doses this year from Covax, a global alliance. The alliance earlier announced that Bangladesh would get 1.27 crore doses between May and June. But as of yesterday, the country has not heard from Covax about a shipment.
Amid such uncertainties, the government started looking for alternative sources and contacted Russia and China to secure supplies of their vaccines. But no considerable progress has been made so far.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque yesterday told reporters that the government is concerned over administering the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
There are talks of co-production of vaccines in Bangladesh, but the government is more interested in purchasing the doses from different sources and continuing the inoculation campaign.
Vaccine production is a time-consuming process, the minister said, "The drug administration will send a report to us regarding those [companies] who have applied [for vaccine production]... The final decision will come after the prime minister is consulted."
Those companies will need four-five months to start production, he said.
"Our focus is on purchasing the vaccine."
The government started mass inoculation on February 7 with a target of vaccinating 160 million people in phases.
Only 2 percent of the population have so far got both shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine and less than 4 percent got the first shot as of Sunday, according to the DGHS.
The World Health Organization (WHO) last month said that the wealthy countries have received the vast majority of the world's supply of Covid-19 vaccines, while poor countries obtained less than 1 percent.
Of the 700 million doses distributed across the globe, "Over 87 percent have gone to high-income or upper- and middle-income countries, while low-income countries have received just 0.2 percent," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
SINOPHARM FOR MEDICAL STUDENTS, NURSES
The five lakh doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine Bangladesh received on May 12 as a gift will be administered among medical students and nurses.
"We have to ensure that the medical students, especially the ones in the 5th year, are inoculated. We cannot disrupt medical education in the pandemic because they are the frontline heroes," said Khurshid Alam.