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India's COVID-19 vaccine export ban excludes Bangladesh: Minister


Dhaka, Jan 04: India’s proposed ban on the export of its COVID-19 vaccine will not be applicable for Bangladesh as New Delhi has assured Dhaka of supplying the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at an appropriate time, Foreign Minister Dr A K Abdul Momen said here on Monday.

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India's drug regulator Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) on Sunday approved Oxford COVID-19 vaccine Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute, and indigenously developed Covaxin of Bharat Biotech for restricted emergency use in the country, paving the way for a massive inoculation drive.

The Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII), the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, has tied up with AstraZeneca to manufacture Covishield while Covaxin has been indigenously developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

Momen, addressing a press briefing here, said that the first consignment of the vaccine co-manufactured by India's SII is expected to reach Bangladesh towards the end of this month.

The SII is obligated to provide 30 million doses by late January or early February under a deal with Bangladesh's Beximco Pharmaceuticals.

However, the SII on Sunday said that it has secured India’s regulatory approval on the condition that it will not export the shots until the country’s vulnerable populations are protected.

The Bangladeshi minister said: “India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has confirmed to us that their ban (on COVID-19 vaccine export) will not be applicable for Bangladesh”. “Vaccine will arrive at an appropriate time… (there’s) nothing to worry.

"As the deal was done on the basis of discussion at the highest level -- between Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Indian premier Narendra Modi, no ban will be applicable for us," Momen said.

Asked if Bangladesh looked for other vaccine sources, Momen said Dhaka was exploring various sources.

The SII was contracted to make one billion doses of the vaccine for developing nations while richer nations reserved most of the vaccines expected to be produced this year.

Bangladesh's Beximco Pharmaceuticals, meanwhile, told the Daily Star newspaper that Bangladesh would get three crore doses of COVID-19 vaccines on time.

"It is our understanding that the statement was generalised. We believe we are on the priority list and we will get the vaccine on time," Beximco Pharma's chief operating officer Rabbur Reza told the newspaper. When asked if the SII has been barred by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) not to export the vaccine till vulnerable populations in India are protected, SII CEO Adar Poonawalla said: "We will start exporting the vaccine post the government's approval and talks are going on".

"Our priority list will see us cater to the Indian market first, then the COVAX countries. Optimistically, by March-April we should have permissions in place," he told PTI.

When asked if the company was negotiating bilateral agreements with other countries too for the vaccine, Poonawalla said: "We have bilateral partnerships with nations like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Morocco, etc".

Bangladesh has undertaken an ambitious mission of vaccinating 14 crore or 80 per cent of its population in two years to tame the raging pandemic, save lives and livelihood as well as accelerate the economic recovery campaign.

The procurement of equipment and logistics, developing distribution networks and recruiting and training some 80,000 people as vaccinators are among the major steps, according to officials.

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