Vaccination: Diverse panel takes on issues from multiple angles

Participants in a webinar on Saturday said ensuring efficient budget allocation, sufficient acquisition of vaccines and equitable distribution will prove challenging for Bangladesh.

They aired these apprehensions at a virtual meeting titled, “ESC Dialogue Episode 5 – Vaccine Diplomacy: Prospects and Challenges for Bangladesh,” chaired by Dr Rumana Huque, Professor of Economics at University of Dhaka.

Dr Rumana talked about the global struggle to contain the highly pervasive virus including how the authorities in Bangladesh only began to take preventive measures after the first Bangladeshi COVID-19 patient was identified.

“Due to rapid trials and accelerated vaccine development, the discussion has now shifted towards the distribution of vaccines and the challenges countries like Bangladesh will face to implement it successfully,’ she added

Dr Rumana said ensuring efficient budget allocation, sufficient acquisition of vaccines and equitable distribution will prove challenging for Bangladesh, she also informed the audience that Bangladesh had already taken measures to secure 6 crore doses of vaccine from Gavi -the Vaccine Alliance, and 3 crore from India.

Dr Senjuti Saha, a scientist with the Child Health Research Foundation (CHRF) where she helped sequence the first genome from Bangladesh of the novel coronavirus, said although mankind was facing a new virus and was forced to come up with new vaccines, the equitable distribution of vaccines was an old issue that was obstructed by the lack of health data especially in developing countries like Bangladesh.

She explained that the genetic composition of the COVID-19 virus may vary geographically which could render foreign vaccines less effective. That was why health data from Bangladesh like the genomic sequencing of the SARs-CoV2 strain in Bangladesh, the project she led, was so important to ensuring that the vaccines distributed in Bangladesh were tailored to the type of virus introduced.

Dr Senjuti was rather optimistic about Bangladesh’s vaccine distribution capabilities as it hosts one of the highest vaccine coverage (and lowest vaccine hesitancy) in the world. Bangladesh has an accessible landscape due to high population density and has had a commendable track record in immunising children.

She also highlighted the need to collect health data while vaccines are provided to gauge the success of implementation.

Dr Senjuti emphasised on the need for the development of vaccine production capability by the country’s own pharmaceutical sector as she argued that the equitable distribution of vaccines is highly unrealistic even in the future.

In explaining the difference between equality and equity, she ended by saying, “Nobody is safe until everyone is safe.”

On the subject of vaccine diplomacy and the challenges Bangladesh will face to acquire vaccines, Dr Delwar Hossain, Professor of International Relations at DU, expressed his perplexity at the lack of global cooperation regarding vaccine distribution despite the COVID-19 pandemic evolving into a global humanitarian crisis.

He argued that instead of collaborating, many developed countries that have been hit hard by the pandemic have resorted to vaccine nationalism to secure vaccines for its own people which reflected the growing dissatisfaction of multilateral governance.

Dr Delwar said that Bangladesh had resorted to both bilateral (with China and India) as well as multilateral agreements (Gavi, COVAX) to secure vaccines. Bangladesh has made it loud and clear that vaccines should be considered a public or collective good with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina saying so at the UN Assembly.

He also hinted at the scope for aid diplomacy as Bangladesh tries to secure funding from the World Bank and JICA to ensure a smooth distribution process while he noted that the country has sufficient currency reserves to finance the process herself.

He emphasised that the level of success in the distribution of vaccines by Bangladesh depended on how well it executes its plan (which tries to ensure coverage of 80% of the population in three phases), the extent of cooperation and support from its bilateral and multilateral partners, and whether vaccine patents and intellectual property rights will be relaxed to enable the country’s pharmaceutical industry to produce its own vaccines.

Dr Ashikur Rahman, Senior Economist at the Policy Research Institute said the tension between vaccine diplomacy and vaccine nationalism continues which reflects a lack of cooperation among countries.

He expressed “cautious optimism that Bangladesh will get on the vaccine ladder as soon as it’s available.” He addressed the need for equity in meting out vaccines to the cohort with the most vulnerabilities, comorbidities and high mortality.

Source: United News of Bangladesh