Bangladesh: Uncertainty looms around COVID-19 vaccination

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DHAKA, Bangladesh

Mohammad Shahidul Islam, a senior official of a private company in Bangladesh’s port city of Chittagong, received his first dose of a coronavirus vaccine on Feb. 23 and the second on April 20.

But he is nervous about inoculations for the rest of his family.

“I am in tension whether I will be able to vaccinate my family members as we are currently importing vaccines only from India and the country recently declared it will not export vaccines,” Islam told Anadolu Agency.

Another private job holder in the capital Dhaka, Kamrul Islam said he was scheduled for his second dose on May 3. “I am confused whether I will get the second jab timely.”

The South Asian country of 165 million managed to get 10.2 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine from neighboring Serum Institute of India where it is manufactured as Covishield.

Bangladesh signed a deal with India on Dec. 13 to purchase 30 million doses of Covishield on an installment basis.

But until now, Dhaka has received 7 million doses in two installments while Delhi has sent 3.2 million as a gift.

As of Tuesday, nearly 7.6 million residents of the delta nation have received vaccine shots. So the country has just 2.6 doses in stock, according to data by the government’s Directorate General of Health Services.

Until Thursday, nearly 7.2 million people have registered for inoculation, meaning the government needs at least 14.4 million doses to fulfill the registered requirement of two doses to complete the course. The government presently has a shortage of 4.2 million doses.

Tension rises regarding Indian restrictions

Meanwhile, tensions are mounting in Bangladesh though authorities assured residents that there would be no crisis of vaccines as it has multiple sources, including China and Russia.

The Chinese Embassy in Dhaka on Tuesday issued a letter to the Bangladeshi Health Ministry, requesting “authorization of emergency use and letter of commitment for receipt of 500,000 Chinese government’s gift vaccines.”

The letter signed by Chinese Ambassador in Dhaka Li Jiming, however, did not mention any particular date to release the installment.

“I have already instructed to receive the Chinese vaccines and ordered to return the letter of authorization immediately,” said Health Minister Zahid Maleque. “We will give a positive reply to them [China] within one or two days.”

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen also confirmed to the media that on condition of not disclosing the formula, Bangladesh signed an agreement with Russia to locally manufacture its Sputnik V vaccine.

Momen has not specified a date to start the process and how much time it would take for final production.

Stock to run out by early May

On average, more than 16,000 residents apply for vaccines daily, according to the latest report by the Health Ministry. And more than 150,000 receive a vaccine jab every day.

If the vaccination campaign continues at the current rate, the stock of vaccines will be finished by the first week of May.

Bangladesh, now passing through a worsening second wave of the pandemic with nearly 100 daily casualties, must resume contractual shipments with the remaining 23 million jabs from India.

A total of 10,781 people have died from the virus while infections stand at 736,074, according to the government’s latest health report issued late Thursday.

Due to the rapid escalation of the pandemic in India, it has decided to first prioritize local needs in its vaccination campaign before exporting vaccines.

Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla, in an exclusive interview with a news outlet on Wednesday, vowed not to export vaccines until June-July.

Confusion about effectiveness of different brands

Doctors have expressed confusion about the effectiveness of different brands of vaccines on the same patient.

“As Bangladesh must need a new supply of vaccines by early May, it will be challenging for the country to meet the need by this short time,” Nahidujjaman Sajjad, a doctor in a private hospital in Dhaka, told Anadolu Agency.

He warned of the effectiveness of different brands on the same person.

“If Bangladesh is finally able to get vaccines from alternative sources, it means that a huge number of people who have already taken the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine as a first dose have to take the second dose from another brand,” he said.

“So far I know till the date there is no study about the effectiveness of cross-massing vaccines in a single person,” Sajjad said, adding that without any concrete study, it would not be wise to inoculate one person with different brands.

Underlining the accepted three-month timeframe for taking a second dose, he added: “If the government fails to get vaccines timely, there is a risk that a huge number of people will have to take the second dose late.”

“So it should be wise for Bangladesh to immediately contact India from the highest level of government for releasing the rest of installments so that people can take both doses from the same brand,” he said.

Referring to irregularities and mismanagement at the ministry level, Md. Ehteshamul Huq Choudhury, secretary-general of the Bangladesh Medical Association, however, said that a big country like India needs billions of doses of vaccines.

“So it is not tougher for them to release the contractual installments of vaccines to Bangladesh if Dhaka contacts Delhi more closely,” said Choudhury.

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