Bangladesh Gets First Batch of COVID-19 Vaccines – as Gift From India

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Dhaka
2021-01-21
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Bangladesh Gets First Batch of COVID-19 Vaccines – as Gift From India Bangladeshi health minister Zahid Maleque (second from right) receives the country’s first batch of COVID-19 vaccines from Indian High Commissioner Vikram Doraiswami (right) during a ceremony in Dhaka, Jan. 21, 2021.
[BenarNews]

Bangladesh received its first shipment of coronavirus vaccines – a gift from the Indian government – ­­­­after Chinese state-owned Sinovac late last year withdrew from trials in the country following Dhaka’s refusal to co-fund phase-three tests for its vaccine.

Bangladesh is preparing to begin inoculations in the first week of February after receiving India’s gift of 2 million doses of the Covishield vaccine, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said. The vaccine was developed through a partnership between drug maker AstraZeneca and Oxford University, and produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII).

“Today we have received 20 lakh (2 million) doses of vaccines as a gift from India. It is proven that friendly countries help each other. India helped us with vaccines the way they helped us during our war of independence,” Maleque said, after Indian High Commissioner Vikram K. Doraiswami handed over the vaccine shipment to Bangladesh during a ceremony in Dhaka.

Maleque was referring to the 1971 war in what was then known as East Pakistan.

Bangladesh has also agreed to buy 5 million doses of the SII-produced Covishield through a local drugmaker, which is expected to begin arriving after Jan. 25 and over a six-month period, Maleque said.

“So, we will get a total of 70 lakh (seven million) doses of vaccines in the first phase. With this, we can vaccinate 35 lakh (3.5 million) people in the first phase,” Maleque told BenarNews.

“Hopefully, we can start the vaccination in the first week of February, provided the prime minister approves it.”

Frontline coronavirus workers, including doctors and health workers, would be the first to be inoculated against COVID-19, said Dr. Abul Bashar Mohammad Khurshid Alam, director general of the health directorate. The government would simultaneously start vaccinations in all districts, he said.

Bangladesh is seeing steady declines in new coronavirus infections since Dec. 10. Still, it has a cumulative caseload of more than 500,000 COVID-19 cases and 7,966 virus-related deaths, so far. On Thursday, the country reported 584 new infections and 16 coronavirus deaths.

China’s image ‘tarnished’ in Bangladesh

India’s gift to Bangladesh is one of the largest vaccine gifts by New Delhi, said Doraiswami, the Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh.

“The vaccines were launched in India on Saturday. They are here in Dhaka on Thursday, within four days. And this is among the fastest deliveries of vaccines that we have done for anybody, primarily because of the importance of ensuring that our friends also achieve immunity along with us,” Doraiswami said at the handover ceremony.

Separately, Bangladesh had been told by the Global Alliance of Vaccine Initiative (GAVI) that it would receive 68 million doses of coronavirus vaccines, but these are unlikely to be available before May this year, Bangladesh’s health minister said.

Chinese biotech company Sinovac pulled out of trials in Bangladesh after Dhaka in October notified the firm that it would not agree to co-fund a phase-three trial because that was not part of a deal agreed to in July, Maleque had told BenarNews at the time.

“No country in the world has paid money to a company for a vaccine trial. Sinovac should thank us as we offered our people for the trial,” he had said.

Under the deal, Sinovac was also supposed to give Bangladesh 110,000 free vaccines a “paltry” number, Touhid Hossain, a former foreign secretary, told BenarNews on Thursday.

“India has sent two million doses of vaccines, this volume is quite good. India is the first country to offer us vaccines. This development would no doubt brighten India’s image in Bangladesh,” Hossain said.

“All [Bangladesh] governments since 1976 had expressed the view that China is our tested friend. But we have come to understand that China only looks after its interests as they do not support us in the Rohingya crisis either. This has tarnished China’s image in Bangladesh.”

Hossain was referring to China recently voting against two resolutions criticizing Myanmar at a U.N. General Assembly committee tasked with discussing social, humanitarian affairs and human rights issues around the world.

Meanwhile, a Bangladeshi company and another Chinese company, Anhui Zhifei, have applied to the Bangladesh Medical Research Council for eligibility approval for a third phase trial of the latter’s coronavirus vaccine.

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