Funds for Vaccine Purchase: Disbursement remains slow
The unavailability of doses is once again posing as the sole reason behind the slow disbursement of the Tk 14,200 crore fund allocated for Covid-19 vaccine procurement in the budget for the current fiscal year.
In the first two months of the fiscal year, about Tk 500 crore has been released for procuring vaccine shots from Chinese drugmaker Sinopharm, according to finance ministry officials.
In the last fiscal year, the government had set aside Tk 10,000 crore for vaccine procurement, which was later revised down to Tk 6,377 crore.
Even then, it could disburse only Tk 1,553 crore, of which Tk 1,272 crore went towards advance payment for 30 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India and the remaining sum to Sinopharm.
With these amounts, the finance ministry has so far disbursed about Tk 2,100 crore in total for procuring vaccines since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March last year.
"We are releasing money as soon as we get demand from the health ministry. The money is not an issue but getting hold of vaccines is," said a top official of the finance ministry requesting anonymity.
The government set a target of inoculating 80 percent of Bangladesh's population with two doses of vaccines in one and a half to two years.
To buy the vaccine shots and deliver the jabs to the people, it will need an estimated $3.7 billion, a major portion of which will come from the loans from development partners.
"The price of the vaccine is fickle worldwide. According to our estimate last year, we would need a little over $2 billion. But the scenario has changed this year," said another finance ministry official preferring to remain unnamed.
The official believes that the pace of disbursement would increase in the coming days as the government is purchasing vaccines from various sources.
"For example, we have to pay Sinopharm for the procurement of six crore doses soon," he said.
CURRENT STATUS OF VACCINES
Bangladesh has so far received 2.91 crore shots in total.
The government has purchased 1.5 crore doses of Sinopharm vaccines, of which it has so far received 70 lakh doses.
On Wednesday, the cabinet committee on purchase approved a proposal for procuring a further six crore doses of the Sinopharm shots. The doses are expected in November.
The country received more than 21 lakh doses of Sinopharm vaccine in two consignments as gifts from China. Of the 21 lakh, 10 lakh shots arrived last night.
Besides, it received a consignment of 34 lakh doses of Sinopharm vaccine under the Covax facility, a global arrangement.
As far as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is concerned, the government has so far received 70 lakh out of 3 crore doses procured from Serum.
It received 33 lakh doses of the vaccines from India as gifts and 16.41 lakh doses under the Covax facility.
On the other hand, the government received 55 lakh doses of the Moderna and 1.06 lakh doses of Pfizer vaccines.
After starting in February, the country's mass vaccination programme came to a halt when Serum stopped delivering the doses in April. It resumed in the first week of July after the country got vaccines from various sources.
The country has so far inoculated 1.53 crore people, which is just over four percent of the population. And only 52.24 lakh of them got both the first and second shots.
The finance ministry officials said the government is going ahead with the plan of inoculating 15 crore shots by the end of this year.
"If everything goes as per the plan, we will get more vaccines. So, the pace of disbursement of funds will automatically go up," the official added.