The Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine got the go-ahead for use in the United Kingdom on Wednesday, marking the first approval worldwide for a jab that faced so many questions but will play a crucial role in mass immunisations.
With the Oxford vaccine's approval, Bangladesh's vaccine hope has neared fulfilment.
This vaccine is deemed a game-changer as it can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions. So it came as good news for many developing countries such as Bangladesh and India.
Bangladesh has so far entered into an agreement with the Serum Institute of India through Beximco to get the Oxford vaccine only. Now, if the vaccine is approved in India, Beximco will seek approval to implement the vaccine in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh's health minister hopes that the vaccine will arrive in the country by January.
The vaccine has become the second coronavirus shot to be approved for UK use after Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE's in early December.
The UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has given clearance to it for emergency use.
The vaccine will be prioritised for the UK's most vulnerable groups, with shots starting Monday, said Bloomberg. The UK has ordered 100 million doses – enough to vaccinate 50 million people, reports The BBC.
Soon after the UK gave the approval, India's national drugs regulator held an urgent meeting on Wednesday to take a decision on Serum's emergency-use authorisation application for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine candidate against Covid-19.
Meanwhile, On 5 November Bangladesh signed an agreement with the Serum Institute and Beximco Pharmaceuticals for availing 3 core doses of Covidshield, a potential Covid-19 vaccine developed by Oxford.
In the initial six months of the first phase, Serum will provide 50 lakh vaccine doses per month to Bangladesh through Beximco.
"The vaccine we have been waiting for so far has been approved in the UK. This is good news for us. Now, as soon as it is approved by the WHO, we will get it along with India," Health Minister Zahid Maleque said at an event in the capital on Wednesday.
The minister said, "The process of bringing in the vaccine is almost done. One possible time for the vaccine to arrive is late January or early February. However, as the approval process is expedited, we hope to receive the vaccine by the end of January or earlier."
Talking to The Business Standard, Beximco Pharma's Chief Operating Officer Rabbur Reza said, "The UK's approval of the Oxford vaccine is news of great hope for us. Once the vaccine is approved in India, we will submit all documents of the UK and India to the Directorate General of Drug Administration. They will take the next step after scrutinising all the documents."
"As per the agreement, the vaccine will be brought to the country within a month of getting the approval from the Bangladesh government. However, we will try to bring the vaccine as soon as possible if it is approved," Rabbur Reza also said.
After the vaccine arrives in Bangladesh, Beximco will initially use its own cold chain to store the doses. Later, the company will deliver the vaccine to designated state-owned warehouses.
Though the vaccine faced so many questions before getting approval, it will be a key to mass immunisations.
In the first trials of the Oxford vaccine, it was found to be 62% effective overall, though one group accidentally given a half-dose first was 90% protected.
The figure was just 62% when people were given two full doses of the jab and 90% when they were first given a half dose and then a full one.
Professor Nazrul Islam, noted Bangladeshi virologist and member of National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19, said, "We are purchasing Oxford vaccine via India's Serum Institute. As the vaccine got approval in the UK, it has now become easier for us to get it. We hope this vaccine will be safe for us too as the UK, a nation with a good scientific background, has approved it to use for their people."
"According to our vaccine policy, we have to test the vaccine before mass use or need to take permission from any developed nations. The UK is a developed country, so we can use the Oxford vaccine on an emergency basis. Besides, we can use the vaccine here on the basis of UK approval as the WHO nod might take time," the virologist added.