Bangladesh will get the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca as per the agreement signed with the Serum Institute of India (SII) despite a reported ban on the export of the jab by India.
The government is also in contact with other countries, including China and Russia, to procure coronavirus vaccines developed by them.Health Minister Zahid Maleque came up with the information while addressing a press conference at his ministry on Monday.
The news conference was arranged against the backdrop of the reported ban on the export of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine by India.
According to a report run by AP, India on Sunday decided not to allow the SII to export the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for several months.
In an interview with the news agency, SII CEO Adar Poonawalla said, "The vaccine has been granted emergency authorisation by the Indian regulator on Sunday, but on the condition that Serum Institute doesn't export the shots to ensure that vulnerable populations in India are protected."
However, the External Affairs Ministry of India termed the remarks of the SII official ‘personal and premature’, according to a message it conveyed to Bangladesh’s Foreign Affairs Ministry on Monday.
On December 13, a tripartite agreement was signed between the government, the SII and its local supplier Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd to procure 30 million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from the Indian company.Meanwhile, the Directorate General of Drug Administration on Monday approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for use in Bangladesh.
Speaking at the news conference, the health minister said they have come to know that India will give priority to its citizens for inoculation against the coronavirus before going to send it to other countries. “After getting the news, we’ve discussed the issue with our Foreign Ministry and it talked to its Indian counterpart. We’ve also talked to Beximco. We’re hopeful about getting the vaccine as per our agreement as no one of them said anything negative. They instead told us not to be worried,” he said.
The minister said India approved the vaccine for emergency use locally. “But the Serum Institute will give the vaccine to Bangladesh after getting the approval from the World Health Organization (WHO). They’ll now apply for the WHO approval.”
He also expressed the hope that the SII will get WHO’s green light soon and then they will inform Bangladesh when they can export it. “As much as we’ve discussed the issue, we’ve been assured that we’ll get the vaccine as per our agreement,” he added.
Zahid Maleque continued: “We’ve signed an international agreement (with Serum Institute of India to purchase the Covid-19 vaccine). There’s an obligation to honour the agreement. We keep faith with it.”
He further said they were also assured that Bangladesh will get the coronavirus vaccine from the SII as per the deal as the country has friendly relations with the neighbouring country for long.
According to the tripartite contract, the government will pay US$5 for each dose, including $4 as price and $1 for carrying it maintaining the required temperature. The price is at least one dollar higher than that announced by AstraZeneca for each dose.
The SII will pay its local agent Beximco Pharmaceuticals for carrying the vaccines from its warehouses to the Bangladesh government’s warehouses as per the deal, said officials.
The Bangladesh government will deposit money to SII account soon for procuring the 30 million doses vaccine. $120 million will be sent as advance payment.
The Indian company on Thursday handed over the papers of the bank guaranty to the Bangladesh government against the advance payment.
According to the clauses of the contract, the SII will return the money to Bangladesh if it is unable to deliver the vaccine by June next.
Talking about the payment, the health minister said, “The process of giving the money for the vaccine is now at the final stage. All approvals have already been completed. The payment will reach the Serum Institute today or tomorrow.”
He said as per the agreement, the SII will now get half of the total price.
Asked whether Bangladesh has any alternative source to get the coronavirus vaccine if it cannot avail it from the SII, Zahid Maleque said they have already discussed the issue with many other countries, including China and Russia. “Talks are going on at different stages. If the trial of their vaccines is completed, we can go for agreements.”
Mentioning that he had talks with the Chinese ambassador in Dhaka two days back about their coronavirus vaccines, he said, “We’ve sought their documents and papers on their vaccines. We’ll review those and then think about their trial.”
At the press conference, Health Services Division Secretary Md Abdul Mannan said there is nothing to be worried about the Covid-19 vaccine as a G-to-G agreement has been signed to purchase the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab from the SII. “India won’t allow commercial sales. However, the bar won’t affect our agreement. There’s nothing to delay our availability of the vaccine.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen rejected the report that India has banned the export of Covid-19 vaccine, saying Bangladesh will be the first country to get Covid-19 vaccine from India.
He also quoted the External Affairs Ministry of India as describing the SII official’s comments on the Covid-19 vaccine export as ‘personal and premature’.
Besides, Beximco Pharmaceuticals said Bangladesh will get the 30 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine in time.
Addressing a press conference at his Gulshan residence, its Managing Director Nazmul Hassan said there is no uncertainty over availability of the vaccine. “Bangladesh will get the vaccine within one month after the government approves it.” Bangladesh aims to procure 90 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine by May or June for inoculating 45 million people against the virus with each getting two shots.