Bangladesh has entered the much-anticipated Covid-19 vaccination phase earlier than many other countries in the world – thanks to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s proactive measures and India’s ‘neighbourhood first policy’ that prioritises Dhaka.
Indian High Commissioner Vikram Doraiswami on Thursday handed over 2 million doses of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine made in Pune by Serum Institute to Health Minister Zahid Maleque and Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen in a ceremony at the state guesthouse Padma.
India has provided the doses as a ‘gift’.
Five million more doses will come by January 26 as part of the tripartite deal between the health ministry, Beximco Pharma and Serum Institute to procure 30 million doses in six phases.
Additional, 68 million doses of the Oxford’s vaccine will come within this year under the Covax mechanism of the WHO and the Global Vaccine Alliance.
The government has planned to kick off a brief trial on January 27 or 28 using healthcare workers in Covid-dedicated hospitals in Dhaka, before countrywide rollout at the first week of February. The prime minister is expected to inaugurate the trial.
With that, Bangladesh will be the 52nd country to start the vaccination campaign, if no new country starts the vaccination in the next week. As of Thursday, 51 countries, mostly America and Europe, have been able to start the vaccination, according to data collected by Bloomberg.
“Today is the historic day. Many developed countries have not yet received the vaccine. We got the vaccine prior to them, so thanks to the Indian government,” Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said, during the handing over ceremony.
“India stood by Bangladesh in the War of Liberation in 1971. Now it has given vaccine as a gift during the pandemic,” he added.
PM leads from the front
“We have been able to start it early because the prime minister led the whole efforts from the front,” Barrister Shah Ali Farhad, a Special Assistant of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, told Bangladesh Post.
“Because of her (Sheikh Hasina’s) initiative, we could sign a deal in November with Serum Institute, and the vaccine issue found a place in the bilateral document during the summit meeting with her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi,” he said.
“It is also the proof of our friendship which flourished during her tenure and we got the result now,” he said, as because India sent vaccines to its closest neighbours Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. In fact, in Bangladesh, India sent the biggest such dispatch to any of the neighbouring countries.
Pakistan and Myanmar, despite being their neighbours, did not get it on priority basis.
In the bilateral document, it was clearly mentioned that Bangladesh would get the vaccine at the same time with India. India rolled out the vaccine on January 16 and Bangladesh received it on January 21.
“From the beginning, our prime minister instructed the officials to continue discussion with the six major manufactures, including Pfizer and Moderna, who were in advance stage. The prime minister was concerned from the beginning. Her objective was to get the vaccines which suit us at the earliest,” Barrister Farhad said.
High Commissioner Doraiswami said that in line with the discussions held during the virtual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, India has delivered the vaccines within a week of its roll-out in India.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque termed it a proof of ‘true friendship’ between Bangladesh and India.
“We will fight against any disaster together,” he said while receiving the gift.
Indian High Commissioner Doraiswami said: “This is a gift to our neighbour as a complement. India and Bangladesh will work together against the disease. Our bilateral relations will be strengthened further.”
They expressed hope that the two countries would through such joint efforts defeat the pandemic and continue to partner for the benefit of our people.
Serum Institute of India is the world's largest vaccine manufacturer by number of doses produced and sold globally which includes Polio vaccine as well as Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Hib, BCG, r-Hepatitis B, Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccines.
It is estimated that about 65 percent of the children in the world receive at least one vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute.
Vaccines manufactured by the Serum Institute are accredited by the World Health Organization and are being used in around 170 countries across the globe in their national immunization programs, saving millions of lives throughout the world.
The Indian High Commissioner said as part of the Neighbourhood First Policy, India accords high priority to the India-Bangladesh relationship.
The gift of 20 lakh doses of Covishield is in fact the “biggest” such dispatch by India to any of the neighbouring countries.
He said that 21 January is a landmark day as the arrival of the vaccines – for the very first time in Bangladesh – will support Bangladesh’s own efforts against Covid-19.
India, as a committed partner of Bangladesh is delighted to have been able to contribute to this historic moment, he said.
He also added that the arrival of the vaccine is only the latest of many steps already taken by the two countries to combat Covid19 together.
As early as 15 March, at the initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a SAARC Leaders video conference for combating Covid19 was organised.
During the conference, Sheikh Hasina called for collaboration through utilization of our collective capacity, expertise and resources.
The SAARC Covid19 Emergency Fund was set up soon after.
Healthcare professionals, administrators, etc from Bangladesh have also participated in online capacity building courses conducted by premier medical institutes in India such as All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
The High Commissioner recalled that the Bangla-language course on Covid19 organized by AIIMS, Bhubaneswar especially for healthcare professionals from Bangladesh was a resounding success.
A 2-day online ‘Train The Trainer’ course was also conducted by the government of India on 19-20 January 2021 to facilitate the vaccine roll-out.
According to the EPI, which are the immunisation authorities in Bangladesh, by this month they will have 7 million doses of Oxford’s vaccines.
But they will administer the vaccine in 6 million people first because out of the 2 million gifts, 1 million will be kept for the second dose.
The government will get the second dose for the 5 rest million people next month as part of the planned purchase deal with Beximco Pharma.
The second shot will be administered two months after the first jab as per the Oxford-AstraZeneca guidelines for its vaccine.
Health Secretary Md Abdul Mannan told media that after observing the vaccinated people for a week, the nationwide vaccine drive is likely to begin on February 8.
The government will prepare a list of 15 million priority recipients for the vaccine.
The Directorate General of Health Services has already sent a letter to all the agencies concerned asking them to prepare a list of eligible people of different strata to be vaccinated in the first phase.
There will be no vaccination centres outside the government hospitals. Private hospitals will be able to take the permission as a vaccine centre if they maintain certain criteria as part of the precautionary measures to treat any adverse reactions.
A cell has been set up to regularly circulate information about vaccination through a bulletin, according to the health secretary.
The government will also conduct antibody tests on the vaccinated people to see how long the Covid antibodies last. Everything related to the Covid vaccination will be controlled through a mobile app called "Shurokkha".
The ceremony at the state guesthouse was held shortly after the vaccines were delivered with due protocols to Bangladesh in an Air India aircraft at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
State Minister of Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam was also present at the ceremony along with representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office.