The health ministry has prepared a proposal for the government to buy Oxford University's Covid vaccine at $5 per dose, which Beximco Pharmaceuticals will buy from the Indian manufacturer Serum Institute for $4.
The ministry has sent its proposal to the Prime Minister's Office for approval.
In the initial six months of the first phase, Serum will supply three crore doses of the vaccine "Covidshield" to Bangladesh, the proposal says.
Beximco will get $1 per dose from the government for the vaccine import, preservation and management costs. In this way, the government will have to spend $5 per dose, it also said.
The Covidshield is expected to get final approval in December-January.
If the government wants, it needs to procure this Covid-19 vaccine via the local drug producer, Beximco Pharmaceuticals, the sole supplier of Seram's vaccine to Bangladesh, according to the health ministry.
Earlier, Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd announced that it signed a Covid-19 vaccine deal with Serum Institute of India to ensure that Bangladesh gets priority access to the Indian drug manufacturer's potential vaccine.
The health ministry seeks to procure Oxford vaccine "Covidshield", given its comparatively low cost, fast availability and easy preservation.
When asked whether the government will import vaccine doses through the government-to-government deal or Beximco, Health Secretary Md Abdul Mannan told The Business Standard, "We will choose the strategy through which the vaccine will be available at the earliest possible time."
Among the vaccines which will hit the market early next year, Oxford's one will be available at comparatively lower price, he added.
The Serum Institute of India, tasked with producing this potential vaccine in India, has agreed to sell the vaccine to Beximco at $4 per dose, according to the health ministry proposal.
Serum offered per dose of its potential vaccine at $5 while Indian government agreed to pay $4 for it. Bangladesh thinks both Serum and Indian government will eventually agree to keep the per dose price at $4. If it happens, Serum is ready to provide the vaccine doses at the same price, according to health ministry officials.
In the second phase, Bangladesh will avail supplies of vaccine doses at a similar price to what India will get at. The vaccine price might rise or drop during the time.
In the first phase when the vaccine hits the market, frontline health workers and elderly people aged 65 or above will be the priority recipients for the jab.
The big advantage of having the Oxford-developed vaccine is that it can be stored at 2-8°C, and Bangladesh has that storage facility, the proposal.
The country does not have the capacity to preserve vaccines being developed by other companies such as the United States' (US) Moderna, Pfizer and China's Sinovac at temperatures ranging between -20°C and -70°C.
Most vaccine doses manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer will go to the US. It will take a long time to reach those vaccines to Bangladesh, said officials at the health ministry.
So, the government should book in advance the potential vaccine as soon as possible with many countries having already done that, said the proposal.
On October 13, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said Bangladesh was in talks with at least five frontrunners for the vaccine, including AstraZeneca. He also told Reuters that Bangladesh will not co-fund a late-stage domestic trial of a potential coronavirus vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech, which sources said would cost roughly $7 million.
Earlier on 19 September, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said Bangladesh has already communicated with all possible countries including Britain and European Union, not just with India and China. He had said this after Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar offered their readiness to start phase-III clinical trials of Covid-19 vaccine candidates in Bangladesh.
The Oxford vaccine will be of two shots per person to be jabbed in an interval of 21-28 days. Serum sought payments in advance from Beximco for its vaccine supplies.
Seeking anonymity, an official at the Finance Division told The Business Standard that the health ministry has not yet formally informed the finance ministry about the advance investment amount. They have not even sought money.
However, the health ministry said it will cost $10-15 for two doses per person. In this way, $1.5 billion-$2 billion will be required to vaccinate the country's 16.5 crore people.
The government has decided to vaccinate all the people free of cost.
Some 20% of the country's population – maximum 3.5 crore – will be vaccinated in the initial phase. The finance ministry has estimated $350-$500 million for purchasing vaccines in the first phase. Some $1.5-2 billion will be required to vaccinate the remaining 80% in the second phase.
The government is trying to draw foreign funding for the vaccine purchase. To this end, the Economic Relations Division has sent letters to the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and japan, seeking assistance.
Bangladesh will also get some vaccine supplies from COVAX for free. COVAX is co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO. Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access to every country in the world.
Health ministry officials said Bangladesh might get 25-50 lakh doses of vaccines from COVEX in the first phase, which is likely to reach 2 crore doses in total.
Little interest in Sinovac's vaccine
There are doubts as to whether China's Sinovac vaccine trial will be held in the country at all owing to various complications although Bangladesh has been included in its phase-3 trial list.
The vaccine is expected to hit the market by next March, but is yet to be finalised. Another Chinese company; CanSino's vaccine is expected to hit the market early next year. Health ministry officials estimate that the price of these two vaccines may be around $40-70 per dose.
Only one company preferred
An individual will have to be jabbed two doses of a vaccine that will hit the market early next year.
Officials at the health ministry said therefore, if vaccines of different companies are brought in the country, it will be difficult to properly distribute, monitor, record and implement the vaccination among a large population of the country.
Moreover, the government is preferring only one vaccine, anticipating that the situation might get complicated further if the interval between two shots of different vaccines varies from one another.