The government will initially distribute three crore doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to people for free.
"People will get the vaccine for free. The government is paying the money," Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam told a press briefing at the secretariat after the weekly cabinet meeting yesterday.
A proposal to buy the vaccine from Serum Institute of India has been sent by the health ministry to the cabinet committee on economic affairs for approval. The committee will sit tomorrow to discuss the matter.
"Approval from the Economic Affairs Committee is required as per section 76 of PPR since it will be bought from a single source," he said.
On November 5, the government signed a trilateral MoU with the Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bangladesh's Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd for buying three crore doses of the vaccine.
The finance ministry on November 16 initially allocated some Tk 735.77 crore for the Health Service Division to procure the Covid-19 vaccine.
Speaking about the vaccine distribution policy at the briefing, the cabinet secretary yesterday said there is a guideline of the World Health Organization in this regard.
"A programme is being developed on who will get the vaccine first," Anwarul said, adding that frontline workers, police, and people in the administration who are working on the ground will get the vaccines followed by the elderly and the children.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina joined the cabinet meeting virtually from the Gono Bhaban. The health ministry apprised the update on vaccine procurement at the meeting.
Apart from the vaccine from SII, Bangladesh will buy 68 million doses from the Gavi under a global arrangement called COVAX. The first shipment of vaccine doses from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, is likely to be made between February and June next year, said officials of the health directorate.
Each person will need two doses. The cost of each shot has been estimated at $1.62 to $2.
However, the government would pay $5 for each dose from Serum once the vaccine is approved for human application. The three crore doses will be delivered in phases with 50 lakh doses every month.
Asked about the high price of the vaccine from Serum, Anwarul said the procurement contract was yet to be done. "It's too early to make any comment."
Besides, the health ministry is also in talks with some other manufacturers for vaccines, he added.
Asked what would happen if there was any irregularity in the distribution of the vaccine, Anwarul said, "If anyone commits corruption, let us know and we will take action.
"Following the WHO Protocol is our primary condition to the manufacturers. Even an existing contract can be cancelled, if there is any major deviation from WHO guidelines."
In India, a 40-year-old volunteer for the candidate vaccine of Serum, sued the company for Rs 5 crore, alleging that the vaccine triggered an adverse reaction, which includes neurological impairment and an inability to get back to life before being inoculated, according to media reports.
He demanded, via a legal notice sent to the Serum, AstraZeneca and the Oxford Vaccine Group, that the vaccine trial, which is now being tested on 1,600 volunteers in India, be immediately halted. The legal notice was sent on November 21, according to Economic Times of India.
Refuting the trial participant's claims, Serum Institute yesterday said it would seek Rs 100 crore in damages for "malicious and misconceived allegations".
The company also said that while it sympathises with the volunteer's ailment, there is "absolutely no correlation with the vaccine trial and his medical condition".
The vaccine developed by the University of Oxford, UK, and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca was found to be, on average, 70 percent effective in a preliminary analysis of phase III trial data, the developers announced in a press release on November 23.
But the analysis found a difference in efficacy depending on the amount of vaccine delivered to a participant.
STRICTER PUNISHMENT FOR NOT WEARING MASKS
The government is considering whether to increase fines from Tk 500 to Tk 1000.
"If people do not obey even after that, we'll have to go for imprisonment. We cannot take risks," said Anwarul.
"From this week, more strong action [against the persons who go outside without masks] will be taken. DCs from outside Dhaka informed us that people have become somewhat careful.
"People in Dhaka perhaps have not become completely careful… We've given directives to impose the maximum fines."
The government earlier asked all offices to implement a 'No Mask, No Service' policy.