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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Bangladesh reaches out to India, US for vaccine doses

Bangladesh, which has imposed a national lockdown, has seen more than 7.8 lakh Covid-19 cases, and more than 12,000 deaths so far.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi |
Updated: May 19, 2021 7:22:28 am
A Bangladeshi woman mourns the death of her husband who died of COVID-19 at a hospital in Dhaka (AP)

Faced with a shortage of vaccines, Bangladesh has reached out to India and the US for supplying surplus AstraZeneca vaccines to Dhaka.

Sources said Bangladesh Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen called up External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday and asked for AstraZeneca vaccines, as the country faces a shortage and is unable to give the second dose to its citizens.

Sources said Dhaka has also reached out to Washington for the vaccines through diplomatic channels as well the Bangladesh-American community in the US.

This came a day after US President Joe Biden on Monday announced that the US will begin shipping 20 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccines to unspecified countries by June-end, in addition to 60 million shots of AstraZeneca vaccines that have already been pledged for distribution subject to authorisation by the drug regulator.

Bangladesh, which has imposed a national lockdown, has seen more than 7.8 lakh Covid-19 cases, and more than 12,000 deaths so far. The country’s efforts to vaccinate its people has been hit by India’s inability to supply it more vaccines due to the second surge and opening up of vaccination for all adults in India.

The Serum Institute of India (SII) was supposed to send 50 lakh doses a month to Bangladesh over a six-month period starting January. The SII delivered the first 50 lakh doses as per the deal, but shipped only 20 lakh in February. No other shipment has been made since.

India sent 33 lakh doses as a grant as part of its vaccine diplomacy. So Bangladesh has in total received 1.03 crore doses of AstraZeneca vaccines so far.

The country is also supposed to get 6.8 crore vaccine doses this year from Covax, a global alliance. The alliance had earlier said that Bangladesh would get 1.27 crore doses between May and June, but there has been no supply so far.

During his phone conversation with Jaishankar, sources said, Momen asked him to request the US administration to send some vaccines to Bangladesh.

While Dhaka has made the first such request to India, it is not alone. Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives are also unable to get vaccines after India stopped sending supplies in order to meet local needs.

The UNICEF has stated that the situation in India is creating a crisis in neighbouring countries. “Cases are exploding and health systems are struggling in countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives…and also in Argentina and Brazil,” UNICEF director Henrietta Fore said in New York.

The Bangladesh government started mass inoculation on February 7 with a target of vaccinating 160 million people in phases. Only 2 per cent of the country’s population has so far got both shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine and less than 4 per cent got the first shot as of Sunday, according to Bangladesh health authorities.

Five lakh doses of Chinese Sinopharm vaccine Bangladesh received on May 12 as a gift will be administered among medical students and nurses.

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