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DHAKA: Bangladesh resumed its nationwide inoculation drive against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) with China’s Sinopharm vaccine on Saturday, nearly two months after halting the initiative due to a failed supply of 30 million doses from India.

Starting from January, New Delhi had vowed to deliver the Covishield vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India, to Dhaka, in a phased manner.

Bangladesh’s health authorities launched the anti-virus drive in early February after India sent 7 million doses of the Covishield vaccine in two installments.

However, after a sudden spike in COVID-19 infections across the country, New Delhi held back its vaccine exports for domestic consumption, resulting in a stalled supply of the crucial jabs for Dhaka from April.

Bangladesh currently has 1.1 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China in recent weeks, which authorities began administering at 67 centers across the country from Saturday.

“We resumed vaccinations on a limited scale, targeting 5.5 million people. It will take two to three weeks to inoculate these people,” Dr. Shamsul Haque, line director at the Directorate General of Health Services, told Arab News.

He added that authorities had devised 10 categories of people to receive the vaccines on a priority basis.

These include frontline health workers; police officials; migrant workers registered with the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training; municipal staff; public school students; employees of the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority; and Chinese nationals, among others.

In addition to the 1.1 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China, Bangladesh has also signed a deal for an additional 15 million jabs of Sinopharm for an undisclosed amount.

“We are expecting to receive the first batch of the Sinopharm vaccine in July. All the procedures are complete at our end. Now, the Chinese authorities are doing some formalities,” Dr. A. S. M. Alamgir, principal scientific officer of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, told Arab News on Sunday.

Alamgir added that nearly 1.4 million people have already registered to receive the first dose of the vaccine.

“Our immediate task is to inoculate these people,” he said, adding that the mass vaccination drive will gain traction next month after more doses arrive.

In addition to China’s Sinopharm vaccines, talks are also under way to procure 1 million doses of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine from COVAX, a global vaccine-sharing facility for developing countries led by the World Health Organization (WHO), by the first week of August.

“We are also putting maximum effort to source Russia’s Sputnik vaccines. Discussion is at the final stage now. We can expect Sputnik in the country anytime now,” Alamgir said.

Out of 166 million, only 4.3 million Bangladeshis have received both doses of the vaccine, with experts urging the government to “purchase the COVID-19 vaccines from anywhere as soon as possible.”

“We have to complete this mass inoculation drive in 1.5 to 2 years. Otherwise, the immunity derived from the vaccine will start decreasing, and then we will need to administer another booster dose,” Professor Muzaherul Huq, former adviser at WHO Southeast Asia, told Arab News.

He added that the government should also focus on the domestic production of vaccines.  

“Our government can achieve capacity by producing vaccines in the country through technology transfer from other countries,” Huq said.

“It will take only three months to produce vaccine this way. Private sector pharmaceuticals also should be engaged in this regard,” he added.

One way to do this, he explained, is to increase health infrastructure and human resources at the sub-district level to ensure better health services to the public during the pandemic.  

In recent weeks, Bangladesh has witnessed a spike in COVID-19 infections, with a current infection rate of more than 18 percent.

As of Sunday, the country had registered nearly 850,000 cases and over 13,500 deaths since March last year.

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