Health Desk – 31 Mar, 2021: The government will think about other options to source COVID-19 vaccine to continue the mass immunisation programme if the Serum Institute of India fails to deliver the next shipment of Oxford/AstraZeneca doses in time, Zahid Maleque has said.
“The vaccination drive is ongoing. But we didn’t get the doses scheduled to arrive from India in February. We are trying hard to get the vaccine,” the health minister said at a virtual inauguration ceremony of the extended part of National Heart Institute in Dhaka on Monday.
He reiterated that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina spoke to her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to get the vaccine jabs on schedule.
“The vaccination drive will not be hampered if we get the vaccine doses in time. We will naturally have to think again if we don’t get the doses,” the minister said.
The World Health Organization has already been contacted for vaccine doses, but the UN health agency said it would not be able to deliver doses under the COVAX programme before May or June, according to him.
The government is exploring alternative sources of COVID-19 vaccine as well, Maleque said, without revealing details.
“We are continuing discussions. We will make a move if we get assurances from there,” he said.
Modi brought along 1.2 million doses of the vaccine as gift on Friday on the two-day trip to join the celebrations of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s birth anniversary and the golden jubilee of Bangladesh’s independence.
Earlier, the Indian government sent two million doses as gift and another seven million doses under the purchase deal for 30 million shots.
Bangladesh is expected to receive five million doses per month under the deal.
But India has recently put a temporary halt on exports of the coronavirus vaccine as it plans to ramp up its own immunisation drive amid a resurgence of infection. It has not sent vaccine abroad since Mar 18, according the website of the country’s Ministry of External Affairs.
Bangladesh launched the mass immunisation drive on Feb 7 after getting the first batch of vaccine. The authorities are scheduled to begin giving the second doses on Apr 8.
Until Sunday, over 5.2 million people have received their first dose of the vaccine while over 6.4 million citizens have registered for the vaccine.
If the government needs to preserve the rest of the 10.2 million doses for the second shots now, no new people will get the vaccine.
If it continues giving the first shot, there will be uncertainty over the second shot in time in case of a delay in receiving the expected doses.