Outbreak of COVID-19 in Bangladesh at a Glance
Inception of COVID-19 Epidemic
On December 31 2019, the first case of COVID-19 was reported to the World Health Organization (WHO), and the source of the outbreak was linked to a wet market in Wuhan city, China. Shortly cases of the virus have been confirmed in numerous countries and territories worldwide, and on 30th January 2020, WHO declared the novel coronavirus outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).  The rate of spread and transmission was so rapid that within a month, the first three confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported in Bangladesh. On 8 March 2020, two of the infected individuals who have recently returned from Italy and the third patient was a family member of one of the travelers were reported to be hospitalized with the virus. All three individuals were Bangladeshi nationals. 
Bangladesh’s COVID-19 Scenario at a Glimpse
According to the World Health Organization, Bangladesh has reported 802,305 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 12,660 deaths from 3rd January 2020 to 2nd June, 2021.  Subsequently, 738,805 people recovered from the disease with a recovery rate of 92.5% (as of 31st May, 2021).
Figure 1 & 2 depicts the coronavirus scenario in Bangladesh concerning confirmed cases and deaths. We can see that Bangladesh has also come under attack of this deadly viral disease and as of 31st May 2021, 12,583 deaths were reported. To combat the situation of COVID-19, the Bangladesh government has taken several steps which includes diagnosis of the suspected cases, quarantine of suspected people with the infection, isolation of infected patients, local or regional lockdown, closure of government and private offices, increased public awareness, and enforced social distancing.  However, to safeguard individuals from the deadly infectious disease, a better, safer, and sustainable solution was required. The Bangladesh government took proactive measures along with several other countries and soon vaccination against coronavirus was rolled out in Bangladesh. On 21 January, 2021 Bangladesh received the first shipment of 5 million doses of Covishield (Oxford-AstraZeneca) manufactured by Serum Institute of India under a procurement agreement.  The shipment arrived as a part of the tripartite agreement among Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd., Serum Institute of India and the Bangladesh government where 30 million vaccine doses were to reach the country. The country has also received 2 million doses of Covishield as a gift from India. Prior to the vaccine’s arrival there were concerns among individuals for a variety of reasons. Some people were hesitant to take the dose due to side effects, authenticity and effectiveness while some people were eager to get the vaccination in order to remain safe from the pandemic. So far, the following number of people have been vaccinated in Bangladesh:
|Vaccination Record of COVID-19 in Bangladesh|
|Vaccinated (1st dose)||5,822,157|
|Vaccinated (2nd dose)||4,161,714|
|% of Eligible received 1st dose||11.7%|
|% Eligible received 2nd dose||8.4%|
Table: Number of people vaccinated in Bangladesh (as of 31 May, 2021) / Date Source: Directorate General of Health Services, MoHFW, Bangladesh.
In Bangladesh, a countrywide COVID-19 vaccination drive kicked off on February 7 and initially, the minimum age for COVID-19 vaccination was 40.  Bangladesh started administering the second dose of coronavirus vaccine from 8th April 2021, while continuing to give the first shot to citizens who have registered. 
Importance of Vaccine Diplomacy in Bangladesh
Bangladesh needs to make “vaccine diplomacy” as a part of its strategy
To be among the first counties to procure an effective vaccine, Bangladesh should deal with both China and India briskly with an “open to all policy” approach alongside maintaining contact with all the potential vaccine-producing countries. Due to the complexity of international politics, it could be difficult to procure vaccines solely based on bilateral relations. Subsequently, economic diplomacy will also play a significant role while making decisions related to vaccine procurement. Bangladesh, with its large population, is undoubtedly a major market for vaccine makers, which may be used as a bargaining tool during negotiations.  Due to geopolitical interest, China and India have already assured Bangladesh of giving priority to providing their vaccines, and China’s offer for the trial of its vaccine is already accepted in Bangladesh.
Nevertheless, it might be challenging to receive doses from China and India in due time since both countries have huge domestic demand due to their large population size. Hence, vaccine diplomacy should be a part of our strategy and we should aim to secure permission for manufacturing any vaccine in our country to ensure its availability here in due time.
Remain acquainted with all potential vaccine-producing countries
Bangladesh should maintain contact with all potential vaccine-producing countries since it is uncertain which vaccine will eventually come out as an effective one. Subsequently, the nation should strategize to reach an understanding with the vaccine producing countries for getting their vaccines once those are approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Side by side, being a developing country, Bangladesh must make stronger attempts to procure vaccine with the help of Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (Gavi), UNICEF, WHO, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), World Bank, and others. Furthermore, the government must maintain a constant contact with Gavi or international bodies to secure pledged vaccine doses from them on the principle of equitable distribution.
An application has been sent to Gavi in July, 2020 through the WHO to avail COVAX Global Vaccines Facility for lower and middle-income countries and the application was accepted. Moreover, International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) has been granted to run phase three trial of China’s Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine in Bangladesh. Due to the participation in the trial process, Bangladesh will be getting 0.1 million doses and a priority in procuring the vaccine by 2021.
Upcoming Vaccine plans & way forward
Currently, Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covishield, Russia’s Sputnik-V, and China’s Sinopharm vaccines got emergency use authorization in Bangladesh. The government took an initiative to purchase 15 million Sinopharm vaccines from China and its first shipment is likely to arrive in Dhaka in June.  Due to the vaccine deficit in the nation and a delay in the timely delivery of consignments from India, the health department did halt the registration of 1st dose of vaccination on 26th April, 2021. 
Bangladesh purchased 30 million doses from India’s Serum Institute, but so far just 7 million have been delivered. However, the Indian government has gifted 3.2 million doses to the people of Bangladesh. Subsequently, on 12th May 2021, a shipment of 0.5 million doses of Sinopharm was given by the Chinese government and 1,00,620 doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Dhaka. This shipment was made possible through the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, a global initiative to support equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. The United States recently declared an initial $2 billion obligation of a total planned $4 billion to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance to support the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, making the United States the largest donor for equitable global COVID-19 vaccine access.  The government is also aiming to purchase 15 million Sinopharm vaccines from China and the shipment is likely to arrive in June.
Given Bangladesh’s high population density, vaccination will be critical in controlling the scale of the pandemic. In addition to an effective vaccination campaign, public health awareness must also be maintained. Governments all across the world have stepped up to help mitigate the pandemic’s effects and guarantee that essential services are available to the citizens. During a huge disaster like the current pandemic, the government must supply everything from stimulus packages to vaccines and strategize their plans prudently.  Strategic leadership will play a significant role in tackling the crisis of COVID-19. Bangladesh’s COVID vaccination programme can become a model for other nations if the government continues to be organized and thoughtful in delivering the vaccine till the end.
Samiha Anwar, Business Analyst at LightCastle Partners has prepared the write-up. For further clarification, contact here: [email protected]
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