To meet the government's target of vaccinating120 million people within no more than two years and a half will require some 240 million doses of the serum. As of August 17, 21.43 million shots could be administered to people, which is about 8.93 per cent of the targeted jabs. Evidently, Bangladesh still has a long way to go before it can fulfil its mission to vaccinate a substantial portion of the population to achieve the so-called herd immunity. But has the government been able to ensure a steady supply of the shots to continue the mass-vaccination programme uninterrupted? The question arises because the initiative has been stalled more than once since the first inoculation drive began in early February this year. And supply shortage is to blame for every instance of the breaks encountered in the vaccination programme. The reason is obvious. Bangladesh lacked the facilities of its own to produce the required amount of vaccines to meet the demand.
Doubtless, the recent report that a local pharmaceutical company will be producing a Chinese brand of vaccine under a collaborative venture with China is an encouraging development. But considering the magnitude of the demand for vaccine in the country, a single local facility of limited capacity is not enough. What the country should strive for is attaining self-sufficiency in vaccine. One way to that end is, of course, building the country's vaccine-producing capacity. Having said that, an ideal solution to the issue of self-sufficiency is having one's own brand of vaccine. The good news is that the prospect of a Bangladeshi brand of vaccine is not pie in the sky. In fact, the vaccine candidate named Bangavax that a local pharmaceutical company has developed is reported to have shown promise after applying it on mice in pre-clinical trials in October last year. The Drug Administration gave the company permission to produce some sample doses of the vaccine candidate required for clinical trial. Though the company applied to Bangladesh Medical Research Council (BMRC) in mid-January this year seeking permission for clinical trial, it is yet to get one. Lately, BMRC has asked the company to do another round of pre-clinical trial using animals before they could get the permission for clinical trial. Whatever the reasons for this delay in providing the company with necessary permission to conduct clinical trial of the vaccine-candidate, the authorities concerned would do well to expedite the official procedure to this end. This is for the simple reason that it is a pandemic-emergency that the country is facing and developing a homegrown vaccine will be a big step forward. At the moment, the worst variant of the Covid-19 virus so far, Delta, is said to be spreading in the country. As such, its further spread among the populace must be halted.
In such an emergency, those responsible for fighting the pandemic need to exploit every opportunity at hand to strengthen the nation's capacity for producing vaccines. And if there is the prospect of developing a homegrown brand, it is incumbent on the authorities concerned to give it the highest priority. That is more so since the ongoing vaccination programme has been facing occasional difficulties having to do with uncertainties in its supply. Against this backdrop, the BMRC and other relevant bodies overseeing the ethical issues relating to vaccines need to act fast. For the faster the country can have its own brand of vaccine, the better is its prospect of halting the pandemic's advance earlier.