COVID vaccine will arrive as planned: Maleque

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19 will arrive in Bangladesh as planned, regardless of what Indian authorities decide on the drug’s export, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said.
Health Secretary Abdul Mannan said the vaccine would arrive in Bangladesh by February, subject to approval from the World Health Organisation as per the contract.

Minister Maleque and Secretary Mannan spoke about the matter after a meeting regarding the vaccine at the Secretariat in Dhaka on Monday.

Bangladesh has signed a deal with Serum Institute of India for 30 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. According to the contract, Serum Institute will send five million doses a month.

Hopes for Bangladesh of receiving the vaccine doses soon were boosted after India’s regulators approved the emergency use of the vaccine on Sunday.

Maleque had earlier insisted that the first shipment of vaccine doses would reach Bangladesh by January.

Serum Institute of India, the Indian maker of the AstraZeneca-Oxford coronavirus vaccine, said on Sunday it intends to concentrate on meeting India’s own immediate demand in the next two months before exporting to other interested countries.

That raised questions over whether the drug’s arrival in Bangladesh would de delayed.

Serum Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla said in an interview with Reuters after the shot was approved for emergency use in the world’s second-most populous country, that exports might be possible after supplying the Indian government with an initial 100 million doses.

Minister Maleque said: “We’ve been working on this matter since morning. Discussions were held with Beximco, the foreign ministry and the Indian mission [in Dhaka]. They’ve assured us that it would not disrupt our agreement. There will be no issues. We are continuing the discussions.”

Beximco Pharmaceuticals is the sole supplier of the vaccine in Bangladesh.

Rabbur Reza, chief operating officer of Beximco Pharma, also ruled out uncertainty over the arrival of the drug.

“As per our contract with Serum Institute, we will receive vaccine doses from the first lot within a month after its approval in Bangladesh,” he said earlier on Monday.

“We’ve submitted all necessary documents to the Directorate General of Drug Administration on Thursday. We’ll apply for the approval today,” he added.

However, the health minister mentioned a condition of getting permission from WHO. “According to the contract, they will send the vaccines upon getting permission from WHO. The deal is international, so we have faith in it. Overall, we are hopeful.”

Maleque said efforts were underway to swiftly send $120 million through for the vaccine. The funds would be deposited by Tuesday, he added.

On when the first shipment of vaccine doses could arrive in Bangladesh, he said, “We are looking into the matter as the problem was not there even yesterday. It can’t be stated right away, but may be within two to four days.”

The health minister also mentioned that Bangladesh was in talks with Russia and other countries over vaccines, but moves cannot yet be made as ‘the trials were still incomplete’. Bangladesh has asked for details of the vaccines from China.

Secretary Mannan said, “Serum Institute of India received approval from the Indian government. After that they will seek approval from WHO’s where it would take about three weeks. We were scheduled to get them in February.”

“There’s nothing to worry about here. The matter of sending money has been finalised today and it is being sent.”