The stock of Oxford-AstraZeneca doses is running out fast but the government, despite frantic efforts to keep the inoculation campaign on track, is yet to secure a contract for bulk supply of alternative Covid-19 vaccines.
The government suspended administration of the first dose on April 26, immediately after the Indian government barred export of Covishield -- the AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India.
The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) yesterday said the stock of the Covid-19 vaccine is running out as there are only 14 lakh jabs in stock with no sign of fresh shipment from India.
There will be a vaccine crisis if a fresh consignment does not arrive in the country before the existing stock is exhausted, DGHS spokesperson Dr Robed Amin said.
Since the suspension of the first dose, the government has been communicating through diplomatic channels to procure Russia's Sputnik V, China's Sinopharm as well as vaccines from other sources.
China has offered five lakh doses of Sinopharm vaccine as gift, which Bangladesh is expected to bring from Beijing at its own expense.
The government is also working on signing an agreement with the Russian government for procuring the Sputnik V vaccine.
Bangladesh, however, is yet to get any response from China regarding its proposal made last week to purchase Sinopharm vaccines.
The country's drug administration has already given emergency use authorisation to both Sputnik V and Sinopharm to expedite the process of procuring alternative vaccines.
Contacted, Health Minister Zahid Maleque told The Daily Star that they are expecting a response from China soon.
"I assume that due to holidays they [China] could not respond," said the health minister.
He said that the foreign ministry is working closely with the Chinese embassy to expedite the process.
"Once we get the proposal, we will go through the necessary scrutiny process and if everything goes smoothly, we will try to complete the agreement quickly," he said.
The health minister said a flight of Bangladesh Air Force is likely to go to Beijing on May 10 and bring the 5 lakh doses of Sinopharm vaccine.
Health officials had earlier said Sinopharm will be used as the first jab.
The Directorate General of Drug Administration had informed journalists that it would inoculate 1,000 people first and review the outcome before launching mass inoculation.
In early 2020, the Beijing Institute of Biological Products developed an inactivated coronavirus vaccine called BBIBP-CorV, also known as Sinopharm. China, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Pakistan and some other countries across the world are currently using it.
The World Health Organization has yet to approve it, but the WHO's advisory panel said Sinopharm has presented data on its vaccine indicating the levels of efficacy.
As uncertainty mounts over the second dose of Covishield for people who already got the first dose of Covishield, Bangladesh is hopeful of getting the vaccine from the US, which has 60 million extra AstraZeneca doses, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said yesterday.
US Ambassador Earl R Miller will meet the foreign minister today to update the government about the vaccine, he told reporters at his residence.
"Our ambassador in Washington DC wrote to the [US] state department. I also requested US Ambassador Miller here. Our request is under consideration," Momen said.
He said the US is prioritising Brazil and India, where the Covid-19 situation is worrisome.
The minister said the Indian diaspora community is strongly lobbying the US to give the country all the 60 million AstraZeneca doses.
"I also request our diaspora to lobby the US government to send vaccines to Bangladesh," he said.
Momen said Bangladesh has approached a number of European countries that have AstraZeneca vaccines, but the amount they have is very small.
"The possibility [of getting the vaccine from Europe] is not very high," he said.
RUSSIAN PROPOSAL WITH LAW MINISTRY
Meanwhile, the health ministry sent to the law ministry the Russian government's proposal to supply the vaccines for final scrutiny of the legal aspects of the agreement.
"We are trying heart and soul to complete the process of the agreement. Once we get opinion from the law ministry, we will send the proposal back to Russia," Syed Mojibul Huq, additional secretary of the health services division of the health ministry, told The Daily Star yesterday.
In another development, an inter-ministerial meeting on vaccine procurement and distribution was held yesterday to analyse the overall vaccination situation.
"We have discussed how to make the efforts to buy two Covid-19 vaccines [from China and Russia]. Besides, the national committee on vaccine has been expanded with additional jurisdictions," Prof ABM Khurshid Alam, director general of DGHS, said.
"The committee has been asked to prepare a draft report shortly about the efficacy and safety of these two vaccines and when the vaccines will be available," he added.
Bangladesh's mass inoculation programme stumbled after the Serum Institute of India failed to ship the vaccine.
As per an agreement, Bangladesh was supposed to receive three crore shots in six months. Serum delivered the first 50 lakh doses in January, but shipped only 20 lakh in February. No shipment has been made since.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said yesterday that Bangladesh will get back the money paid for Covishield vaccines if Serum cannot supply any more doses as per the contract.
"We will take the money back when we will finally come to know that no vaccine will be supplied. We will definitely get back the money… Everything was done based on written contracts," he said.