Bangladesh Launches COVID-19 Vaccinations; Philippines, Thailand Announce Rollouts in February

BenarNews staff
Dhaka and other Asian capitals
2021-01-27
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Bangladesh Launches COVID-19 Vaccinations; Philippines, Thailand Announce Rollouts in February Runu Veronica Costa, a nurse, becomes the first person in Bangladesh to receive a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, at the Kurmitola General Hospital in Dhaka, Jan. 27, 2021.
FocusBangla

Bangladesh kicked off coronavirus vaccinations on Wednesday, while Thailand and the Philippines said they would begin inoculations next month, even as they await their first shipments from vaccine developers.

Inoculations already are underway in Indonesia, where authorities said the general public would start receiving the jabs next month. Meanwhile, neighboring Malaysia kicked off its first COVID-19-related clinical trials.

In Dhaka, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the launch of the coronavirus vaccination drive, as health authorities inoculated the first Bangladeshi citizen, Runu Veronica Costa. She is a senior nurse at the Kurmitola General Hospital, a facility dedicated to the treatment of patients stricken with the disease.

“Are you afraid, Runu?” Hasina asked the nurse, as the prime minister joined the ceremony online from her official residence in the capital.

“Not at all,” Runu replied, as she was injected with the first of two doses required of the Covishield vaccine, part of a gift of 2 million doses from India.

Covishield was developed by Anglo-Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca and Oxford University, and produced by the Serum Institute of India.

In addition to India’s gift, the government has also received a shipment of 5 million of the 30 million doses of Covishield it agreed to buy from the Indian institute.

The state-run Bangladesh Television and private TV channels telecast the vaccination launch live, in a bid to allay people’s fear about the vaccine.

Bangladesh expects to inoculate 16 million people with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine by June, as it pursues efforts to obtain more vaccines from other producers, Minister of Health Zahid Maleque said.

“Currently we have 70 lakh (seven million) doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine in hand. We can vaccinate 35 lakh (3.5 million) people with the current stock,” Maleque told BenarNews.

“By June, we can vaccinate 1.6 crore (16 million) people with the 3.2 crore (32 million) doses of vaccine. Our target is to administer vaccines to every citizen of Bangladesh in phases. So, we have been exploring all sources to buy safe vaccines from all producers, and we are getting a good response.”

On Wednesday, Hasina told Parliament that Bangladesh would get 68 million doses of vaccines – free of cost – from the World Health Organization-backed COVAX/GAVI vaccine sharing platform. Maleque said these vaccines may arrive in Bangladesh by May.

The vaccines obtained via COVAX would inoculate 34 million Bangladeshis. When completed, the COVAX and Covishield vaccines would have inoculated 50 million people, of a total population of 165 million.

Bangladesh has been seeing steady declines in new coronavirus infections since Dec. 10. Still, it has a cumulative caseload of more than 530,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 8,000 related deaths.

“There is a huge demand for vaccines in the world. We have been in negotiations with different stakeholders – Russian and U.S. vaccine producers. We are serious, but not worried about the availability of [more] vaccines in the coming months,” Maleque said.

Indonesia to get 54 million free vaccine doses

In Indonesia, the country with the most cumulative COVID-19 cases in East Asia, vaccinations began earlier this month with CoronaVac, a drug developed by Chinese state-owned Sinovac.

Still, Southeast Asia’s most populous nation, with 270 million people, topped 1 million infections on Tuesday.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had some good news about vaccinations on Wednesday, though.

“First, health workers are prioritized. [For the general public], I think we can do it [vaccinations] starting mid-February, “Jokowi said, adding that 250,000 health workers had been vaccinated so far.

About 181 million people are expected to be vaccinated over 15 months, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said this month. That’s the number of people that need to be inoculated to achieve herd immunity, Indonesia’s Minister of Finance Sri Mulyani told CNBC on Monday.

Indonesia so far has received 18 million doses of Sinovac’s vaccine.  The government had also signed deals to buy a total of 279 million doses of vaccines from various developers, Budi said.

A deal to purchase 50 million doses of the vaccine developed by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer with its German partner BioNTech was still being finalized.

Indonesia also hopes to get 54 million doses of vaccines through COVAX, he said.

“The current COVAX/GAVI figure stands at 54 million [doses] and there is a possibility they could increase it to 108 million [doses],” Budi said.

JOKOWI.jpg
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (center) receives the country’s first COVID-19 vaccine jab at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Jan. 13, 2021. [Handout from Indonesia’s Presidential Palace/AFP]

V-Day in February

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Thailand and the Philippines expect to begin COVID-19 vaccinations next month.

Thailand has placed orders for 61 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine and 2 million doses of the one produced by Sinovac. These orders will inoculate 31.5 million people by the end of this year, according to Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul.

He said the orders were enough to cover about 63 percent of the targeted population of 50 million. The country’s total population is 66 million.

The first 50,000 doses from AstraZeneca will be delivered in the first half of February and the first vaccines will be administered on Feb. 14, to health personnel, Anutin said at a conference on Monday.

Thailand had been among the least affected by the global pandemic but the COVID-19 caseload shot up after a wave of infections in December, largely among migrant workers. The country now has more than 14,000 cases and a total of 75 virus-related deaths.

Meanwhile, the Philippines is the worst affected country in Southeast Asia, after Indonesia, having recorded more than half a million coronavirus infections and more than 10,000 virus-related deaths.

The country is expecting around 1 million doses of coronavirus vaccines by February – from AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Sinovac – Carlito Galvez, head of the country’s COVID-19 vaccine procurement program, said Wednesday.

“More or less, we may have an early rollout [of the vaccines] in February,” Galvez told a press briefing, noting that “more than one million doses” would likely be administered then.

He didn’t say how many doses each the country would get from AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Sinovac. Earlier this month, China’s foreign minister promised to donate half a million vaccine doses to the Philippines, but it wasn’t clear which vaccine Beijing would donate.

Only Pfizer has secured approval from Philippine food and drug regulators for emergency use in the country.

The aim is to administer vaccines to about 70 million people of the country’s total population of 109 million, Galvez said. According to him, inoculating 70 million people was enough to achieve herd immunity.

Malaysia’s first clinical trials

Meanwhile, Malaysia on Wednesday kicked off a clinical trial with a little-known COVID-19 vaccine developed and sponsored by the Institute of Medical Biology of the Chinese Academy of Medical Science Academy (IMBCAMS).

The Phase 3 clinical trial involves 3,000 volunteers in nine hospitals in Sarawak, Penang, Kedah, Perak, and Selangor, and will run for 13 months, Minister of Health Adham Baba said.

The name of the Chinese institute’s vaccine wasn’t disclosed.

Malaysia has been chosen as the first country outside China to participate in this phase 3 clinical trial of this vaccine, the institute’s head of Research and Development, told China’s Xinhua news agency.

On Tuesday, Malaysia inked deals with domestic pharmaceutical companies Pharmaniaga and Duopharma, to procure a total of 18.4 million doses of vaccines from Sinovac and from Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute. This is in addition to purchase agreements with Pfizer and AstraZeneca, and an agreement with COVAX.

Malaysia now has agreements to procure 56.2 million doses of vaccines, which would be enough to cover 88 percent of the country’s 32.7 million population.

Malaysia had said it was planning to vaccinate 70 percent of its population.

The country is on track to receive the first delivery of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of February, as agreed with Pfizer in November last year, Khairy Jamaluddin, the minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation said on Jan. 14.  

“The government of Malaysia will start the vaccination program’s rollout on Feb. 26,” the health minister told Arab News on Saturday.

Kamran Reza Chowdhury, Ronna Nirmala, Hadi Azmi, Wilawan Watcharasakwet and Basilio Sepe contributed to this report from Dhaka, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Manila.

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