As the new year brings with it the hope of vaccination against the coronavirus, people are seeking answer to questions such as when Bangladesh will get the doses and how they will get their jabs.
bdnews24.com has tried to seek the answers by interviewing the government’s health officials and suppliers of the vaccines.
The Directorate General of Drug Administration on Monday authorised the import and emergency use of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.
Other drugmakers, including US firms Pfizer and Moderna, China’s Sinovac and Russia’s Gamaleya Institute, have also developed coronavirus vaccines. But Bangladesh chose the Oxford-AstraZeneca candidate initially because of its easy transportation and preservation requirements, and availability.
The Directorate General of Health Services or DGHS has drafted a detailed plan on storing and distributing the vaccines once they arrive, initially focusing on the systems required for the Oxford vaccine. They are still unsure which vaccines Bangladesh will get rom the global alliance GAVI under the COVAX programme led by the World Health Organization.
The government plans to maintain a cold chain to store and transport the vaccine at temperatures between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius, said Meerjady Sabrina Flora, an additional director general of health.
It has not kept Pfizer-Biontech’s vaccine in the plans as it needs to be stored in -80 to -70 degrees Celsius.
“In plan B, however, we are considering Pfizer, Sputnik (Russian) and Moderna vaccines,” Sabrina said.
According to the plan, people over 18 years old will get the vaccines, with the health workers on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19 being ahead of the pack. Members of the general public will have to apply online by using their national ID cards, birth registration or passport.
WHEN WILL THE VACCINES ARRIVE?
The initiative to import the novel coronavirus vaccine began in the middle of last year.
On Nov 5, Bangladesh signed a deal with the Serum Institute of India and Beximco Pharmaceuticals for 30 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
Serum Institute has signed a contract with Oxford-AsrtraZeneca, Gates Foundation and GAVI for producing more than 1 billion doses of the vaccine and distributing it among the poor countries.
In August 2020, Beximco Pharmaceuticals announced investment in the Serum Institute to ensure Bangladesh gets priority access to the Oxford vaccine. Beximco is now the exclusive supplier of the vaccine in Bangladesh.
As per the deal, the DGHS has wired Tk 6 billion in advance for the doses from Serum. It will cost Bangladesh $5 or about Tk 425 per dose.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque has said different things at different times regarding the arrival of the vaccine, but uncertainties and confusions ovrshadowed hopes of getting the vaccine anytime soon after reports in past few days said India was banning the export of vaccines for months.
The government later clarified that the vaccine will be made available to Bangladesh as per the deal with the Indian firm. Beximco Pharmaceuticals said the vaccine will arrive in one month from the day Bangladesh approves it.
The government approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday, which means the first batch of the vaccine is expected by the first week of February. Health Secretary Md Abdul Mannan has also hinted the same.
STORAGE AND DISTRIBUTION
The DGHS said it will send the vaccines to the Upazilas after Beximco delivers the shots to the districts.
Serum Institute will send the vaccine to New Delhi and then upon being flown in Bangladesh, the vaccines will be stored in Beximco cold storage, said Nazmul Hassan, managing director of the pharmaceutical company.
Beximco has prepared a cold storage in Dhaka to store the vaccine, he said, adding that they also bought seven specialised trucks to carry the vaccines to the districts.
The Central Medical Store Depot is also prepared to take part in the storage and distribution of the vaccine.
Its Director Abu Hena Morshed Zaman said the cold storages for measles and rubella vaccines and antidotes of snake venoms are expected to get empty by Jan 24.
“We’ll be able to store more than 5 million vaccines there,” he said.
Every district has EPI stores under the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) of the government. Each of them can store 200,000 vaccines.
Around 35,000 vaccines can be stored in ILR refrigerators in each Upazila. Cold boxes will be used to carry the vaccines to the union level, said DGHS officials.