Bangladesh has prepared to import Russian Covid-19 vaccine Sputnik-V amid the uncertainty over getting Indian vaccine.
The government is preparing to import 40 lakh doses of the vaccine next month and to produce the vaccine locally as well.
The Directorate General of Drug Administration says it approved the emergency use of Sputnik-V on Tuesday.
Moreover, there will be initiatives to locally produce the vaccine by sharing Russia's vaccine technology or by refilling after bringing vaccine in bulk.
To this end, several companies, including Incepta Pharmaceuticals, are ready, said Maj Gen Mahbubur Rahman, director general of the directorate.
He told a press conference the Russian vaccine is 91% effective and is being used in 60 countries around the world.
The vaccine, he said, would be imported at the government level and vaccination would be carried out through government initiatives.
A government committee would do the necessary negotiations, including the amount of imports and the price, to import the vaccine, added Mahbubur.
With Sputnik-V, Bangladesh has so far approved two vaccines, the other being Oxford-AstraZeneca.
Mahbubur said the Sinopharm vaccine would be approved next.
Sputnik-V is a two-dose vaccine and can bet kept at two to eight degrees Celsius.
"We have received all data on Sputnik-V. Our 12-member public health emergency committee has evaluated the clinical trial and phase-2 trial reports," said Mahbubur.
Professor Sayedur Rahman, chairman of the Department of Pharmacology at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, told The Business Standard it is a good decision to approve the Russian vaccine.
He said any vaccine should be applied now, which would reduce hospital admissions and deaths.
The faster and the more people can be vaccinated, the better, he added.
Bangladeshi drug firms ready to produce vaccine
Health experts think Bangladesh has two limitations when it comes to producing vaccine – the lack of appropriate technology and raw materials.
But there are companies that will be able to produce vaccine if they get raw material support from any source.Incepta can produce full-fledged vaccine while Healthcare Pharmaceuticals and Popular Pharmaceuticals can do so on a limited scale.
To assess local companies' ability to produce vaccine, Health Minister Zahid Maleque visited the production plant of Incepta Vaccine Limited on 18 March. The company has so far produced and marketed 13 vaccines.
Abdul Muktadir, chairman of Incepta Pharmaceuticals, said his company has plenty of capacity to produce more drugs and could manufacture between 600 and 800 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines annually.
"If we get the ready-to-fill material or antigen, we can make this vaccine available to our entire population within two to three months instead of waiting until 2023," he said.
He also said, "If we make these vaccines readily available in plenty, this problem is going to be solved automatically."
Muktadir said his company is ready to produce Russian or Chinese vaccine if the government approves, adding they have already contacted Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca.
Mahbubur said Bangladesh has vaccine manufacturing capacity.
He said Incepta is talking to officials in Russia about whether the vaccine can be produced here. "Hopefully, we will be able to do so."
Professor Sayedur said the government's control over vaccine production has to be clear.
He said Bangladesh faced a shortage of vaccine due to the government's lack of a prominent role, adding that there should be measures to make sure this does not happen again.
Vaccine not coming before two weeks
Bangladesh is working on importing vaccine from the US, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told reporters on Tuesday after a virtual meeting with his counterparts of five Asian countries, including China, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan.
He said a letter had been sent to the US embassy in this regard but there was no possibility that vaccine would arrive from anywhere before two weeks.
Bangladesh is joining a platform named Emergency Vaccine Storage Facility for Covid for South Asia to get vaccine in case of emergency, he said, adding that the platform was initiated by China and India had also been invited to join.
The minister said vaccine would be imported from wherever possible and Bangladesh would be part of all multinational human welfare initiatives.
He said the government is trying to import vaccine from different countries.
"We imported vaccine from India first. But they are unable to send more vaccine due to a shortage. That is why we are trying to import from Russia now."
China is going to gift Bangladesh some vaccines.Asked whether more vaccines will be accepted from them apart from the gifts, the minister said they had asked for some documents from China and the final approval would be given after receiving those.
The foreign secretary said some vaccines have to be purchased from China apart from the gifts and Bangladesh had discussed that with the East Asian country.
He said importing vaccine would take at least two weeks regardless of where it comes from.