Local production of Sinopharm covid-19 vaccine has become uncertain four months after signing the tripartite memorandum of understanding (MoU) largely due to disagreement over price and quantity.
However, whether or not the government would finally backtrack on Sinopharm vaccine production locally could not be confirmed by any of the parties involved.
When the MoU was signed on 16 August this year among the government, Incepta Pharmaceuticals Ltd and Sinopharm, Health Minister Zahid Maleque at that time said Incepta would be able to supply about 4.0 crore doses of vaccine within three months.
But now Incepta, the health ministry, the DG health and the drug administration are engaged in a blame game regarding the slow process in vaccine production as per the commitment.
According to the MoU, semi-finished raw materials for vaccine production would be imported from China in bulk which would be bottled, labelled and finished by Incepta. The government would buy those finished products from Incepta at a fixed rate.
Industry insiders and health experts, however, consider the slow process of local vaccine production or reluctance in researching vaccines as a lack of farsightedness on part of the government.
When contacted, Senior Secretary of the health ministry Lokman Hossain Miah suggested this correspondent ask the directorate general of health services (DGHS) regarding vaccine production.
Professor Meerjady Sabrina Flora, additional director general of DGHS and chairperson of 'Covid-19 Vaccine Preparedness and Deployment Core Committee, Bangladesh' told The Business Standard that the government would not probably backtrack on the Sinopharm vaccine production with Incepta.
"But we do not have any updated information in this regard. Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA) may have the updated information regarding vaccine production," she said.
When contacted, Mohammad Salahuddin, a spokesman of the DGDA, told TBS that the updated information on Sinopharm vaccine production could be provided by Incepta and the health secretary.
Seeking anonymity, a senior official of Incepta told TBS that an MoU was signed between the government and Sinopharm. But the agreement on the price and quantity which was also supposed to be signed is still pending. That's why vaccine production is yet to start.
"As Incepta is the production partner, it can start production of the vaccine only after the government (buyer) and Sinopharm (supplier) signs the agreement. We will proceed with vaccine production after receiving a green signal from the government," he said.
He also informed that the Sinopharm vaccine production process is temporarily halted as Incpeta is busy producing one protein and a nasal vaccine for covid-19.
Another source at Incepta said the agreement has not been signed yet as bargaining is on regarding the price of the Sinopharm vaccine. He also hinted that the government might backtrack from the Sinopharm vaccine production project or take a go-slow stance as it already has sufficient stock of covid-19 vaccines.
According to the DGHS data, the Bangladesh government has so far arranged 32 crore doses of Covid vaccines -- including purchase and gifts from China, India and other countries and under the Covax facility -- which will reach the country in phases by April 2022.
Bangladesh has so far received 17 crore doses of vaccines-- including purchase, gifts and the Covax.
So far over 6.89 crore doses of vaccine were administered as the first dose and over 4.76 crores as the second dose.
Experts, however, observed new variants of covid would be coming and the world might be dealing with the virus for many years thus requiring more vaccines.
Professor Sayedur Rahman, Chairman, Department of Pharmacology of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) told TBS that the government could procure vaccines at a low price or had received free vaccines in the first phase of the covid pandemic. But the virus may exist in future which will require more vaccines.
"The idea of a slow vaccine production process or to refrain from it due to sufficient stock of vaccine in hand is a lack of sagacity," he said.
He further said covid pandemic was a huge opportunity for the country for research and production of vaccines. The technology sharing with various countries could have increased the vaccine production capacity. If Bangladesh graduates to a middle-income country, it might have to spend a massive amount on procuring medicine and vaccines, he added.
The process of vaccine production by the government likely to be delayed
Meanwhile, a non-disclosure agreement has been signed recently between Dyadic International, Inc of the USA and Essential Drugs Company Ltd (EDCL) of Bangladesh for producing vaccine in Gopalganj, Abdur Rahman, a member of the government formed Covid-19 Resistant Vaccine Production Technical Committee and dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy of Dhaka University told TBS.
"But the process of signing the vaccine production agreement, approval for clinical trial and production after the trial may take a couple of months," he informed.