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Press India for vaccines: Beximco to Govt.

Beximco Pharmaceuticals Managing Director Nazmul Hassan has urged the government to step in as the Serum Institute of India failed to provide vaccine doses in keeping with their agreement.

He made the remarks after receiving a second dose of the coronavirus vaccine at Dhaka’s Kurmitola General Hospital on Saturday. “If Serum does not provide the vaccines, we will face a crisis with the second dose,” Hassan said. “The government should make a strong statement on this issue.”

The government has already paid for 15 million doses of the vaccine in advance, Hassan said. Bangladesh arranged an agreement for the purchase of 30 million Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines from the Serum Institute of India.

Despite the agreement, the Serum Institute has not met their scheduled shipments, he said. Asked when these vaccines would arrive, Hassan said: “It is very difficult to say. They [Serum] have five million doses ready for shipment. But the shipment is awaiting the approval from their Ministry of External Affairs.”

Bangladesh was supposed to receive five million doses in March but got only two million. “We have yet to receive a shipment this month,” Hassan said.

“What I say is that they have no right to block shipments when the government has already paid in advance. I don’t need to know what’s happening with other countries. It is unacceptable for them to take our money and not deliver.”

A crisis looms over Bangladesh as the vaccines are not arriving in time for the second doses, Hassan said. “We must distribute it quickly. The Serum Institute CEO told us in writing that their government was blocking them. I urge our government – there is no longer any need to stay silent.”

“The government should tell them immediately, in clear terms, that we have paid in advance and they have to deliver in a timely manner. We do not have enough for the second doses. We must say it firmly, not unofficially over the phone. We have to take strong action.”

“We are not asking for charity.”

“We have paid the Serum Institute in advance for 15 million doses,” he said. “We were supposed to get all of it by May, but we only have 7 million. They should send us the remaining 8 million and, if necessary, we can get the rest from them, or we could get them from another source.”

Asked what would happen if the vaccines did not arrive, Hassan said: “Then there is nothing we can do. The government was supposed to pay in advance and book the vaccines, which it has done. Beximco is responsible for transporting, storing and distributing it once it arrives here and that is what we are doing.”

In response to another question, the Beximco MD said: “Beximco’s plan was to import vaccines and support the government. But now, with the situation as it is, I don’t see any choice but to make it ourselves. Why haven’t the people who have these facilities stepped forward?”

“There is no medicine that Bangladesh cannot produce, but Beximco has no plans to start production of vaccines this year.”

Despite these issues, the vaccine crisis could end after June, he said. “A large supply of vaccines will arrive in the next two months. There will be a crisis, but it should end after June.”

VACCINE SHORTAGE IN GRIM SECOND WAVE

Bangladesh’s immunisation drive against COVID-19 has been ongoing since Feb 7 with doses from Serum, the largest vaccine maker in the world.

The country has so far received 10.2 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVISHIELD from Serum, including 3.2 million doses as gift from the Indian government.

But India put a temporary hold on all major exports of the AstraZeneca coronavirus shot made by Serum to meet domestic demand as infections began to rise in the second half of March.

India’s coronavirus infections rose by 346,786 overnight, the health ministry said on Saturday, setting a new world record for the third consecutive day, as overwhelmed hospitals in the densely-populated country begged for oxygen supplies.

The government has deployed military planes and trains to get oxygen from the far corners of the country to New Delhi, where COVID-19 patients were dying on trolleys outside hospitals while awaiting admission, Reuters reported.

Beginning Saturday, all residents of India age 18 or older can register for a COVID-19 vaccine, but demand is expected to far outstrip supply, according to The New York Times.

So far, more than 135 million people have received at least one dose, about a tenth of India’s population of nearly 1.4 billion, the Times reported on Friday. Two vaccines have received emergency use authorisation, with at least five others in the pipeline.

A makeshift COVID hospital in Mumbai’s Bandra neighbourhood was well supplied with oxygen, but the nearby vaccination centre halted operations after running out of vaccine, according to the report.

Bangladesh is also experiencing a grim second wave of infections that forced the government to enforce a lockdown.

In the first week of the strict lockdown to Apr 21, Bangladesh posted record 602 deaths from COVID-19 even though the infection rate dropped at the same time.

The government has begun exploring alternatives to India for the sourcing of the vaccine to ensure smooth continuation of the immunisation drive.

According to the Directorate General of Health Services, 7.75 million doses have been used up as of Apr 22, which means Bangladesh is left with only 2.45 million shots.

Indian High Commissioner Vikram Doraiswami last week said his country was taking steps to help Bangladesh continue its vaccination campaign. The whole world is running short of coronavirus vaccines as demand is far outstripping supply, according to Doraiswami. “We are all working on increasing the availability and supply of vaccines,” he said.

In the wake of uncertainty over getting purchased doses from India, Bangladesh has decided to join China’s COVID-19 vaccine storage facility for South Asia.

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen last Thursday said Bangladesh will buy vaccine doses from China and Russia as well.

He also said that India never refused to give Bangladesh vaccine, but delayed shipment due to their own trouble.

“They (India) have always assured us of giving the vaccine.”

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