Dhaka decided to purchase 15 million doses of China’s Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine after India stopped the export of jabs due to a shortage of production. But the country maintains that it prefers India-made vaccines over China's and that the step was taken in order to continue its immunisation programme.
"We had to look for Chinese and Russian alternatives only after we failed to get the vaccines from Pune’s Serum Institute of India. We realise the grim situation in India and Serum’s current inability to deliver on its promised supplies”, said a top Bangladeshi Health Ministry official to IANS. India, at present, is facing a massive vaccine shortage, with only 200 million jabs administered in a population of 1.3 billion people.
A public purchase cabinet committee on Thursday gave a nod to the government's purchase plans. As per the approval, the Health and Family Welfare Ministry will procure 15 million doses in three tranches between June and August.
According to the official, Bangladesh is eager to propose a joint production facility for India's Serum Institute in partnership with whichever Bangladeshi company it chooses.
"My minister is prepared to directly negotiate this deal with Serum bosses like Aadar Poonawalla. We would love to have Serum set up production in Bangladesh, we are totally flexible on terms and we are sure a good bit of these vaccines can be exported after our huge demand is met because prices will be more competitive than those made in India”, he added. India's largest manufacturer – the Serum Institute – is manufacturing AstraZeneca's Covishield vaccine.
India and Bangladesh have a cordial relationship. To maintain the bonhomie, India gifted Bangladesh three million doses of Covishield and supplied another seven million on payment.
Bangladesh is currently sitting on an offer from India to co-produce Bharat Biotech's Covaxin, which could have made the country self-sufficient. India extended the production offer in December 2020. As per the official, Bangladesh is waiting for the World Health Organisation to recognise Covaxin.
The land borders with India were sealed by Bangladesh on 26 April after the coronavirus situation in the adjoining areas worsened due to the rising cases in the neighbouring country. With a positivity rate of 8.12 percent, Bangladesh recorded 1,292 new cases and 22 virus-related deaths on Thursday.
The move to purchase vaccines from China can be seen as a sign of strengthening ties between Beijing and Dhaka. It has been speculated that China is trying to woo Bangladesh (the fastest growing country in Asia) by granting duty-free entry to 97 percent of Bangladeshi products.
In reality, however, Dhaka and Delhi share such strong ties that Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina welcomed the Indian prime minister to campaign for a state election on foreign soil – a first in India's political history.