Time to rethink the strategy of vaccine diplomacy

The Bangladesh government should continue to discuss the vaccination issue with India

Published : 25 Jun 2021 08:59 PM | Updated : 26 Jun 2021 12:42 AM

Even eight months earlier, Bangladesh's people had to wait impatiently to learn when they would be able to obtain the COVID-19 vaccination, which would allow them to travel freely after a long stay at home to avoid COVID-19 infection? At every step, there was intense debate over whether the Bangladeshi government would purchase vaccinations once they were ready to be delivered. 

We are all aware that several companies from various countries have produced vaccines. The Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine was the most frequently discussed, followed by the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. After that, Sputnik-V, a Russian vaccine, and Sino pharm, a Chinese vaccine, both came out quickly to safeguard individuals from getting infected. Several Indian firms are also competing to produce the COVID-19 vaccine.

While the Russian vaccine was the first to be developed and delivered to Russian citizens, including the Russian President's daughter, they were not sold outside of the country. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna's vaccine, on the other hand, were authorised by the US Drug Administration and began to be administered to the general public in the United States. 

In addition, these companies began distributing vaccinations to countries across the world, including the United Kingdom. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, on the other hand, is difficult to store since it must be kept at minus 70 degrees. As a result, in Bangladesh, the use of this vaccination is extremely challenging due to the lack of infrastructures throughout the country.

For numerous reasons, the Oxford and AstraZeneca Vaccine has been deemed the most beneficial in Bangladesh, considering the benefits and drawbacks of several vaccines. The first rationale was that many participants stayed connected in the clinical study for this vaccination, implying that this vaccine effectively protects people against COVID-19 contamination. 

We have already witnessed the Sheikh Hasina government's success 

in vaccine diplomacy. When many governments across the globe were 

struggling to organise immunisations for their population, more than 

10 million Bangladeshis received second doses of vaccine

The second argument is that the vaccine is relatively easy to preserve because it may be kept at a normal temperature. According to the third argument, the vaccine's pricing is comparatively inexpensive compared to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Finally, Oxford and AstraZeneca have reached an agreement with the Serum Institute of India to manufacture the vaccine for Asian countries, making it more accessible to us.

Many individuals, however, were skeptical of the Bangladesh government's ability to organise enough vaccine for the population. They were even perplexed as to whether or not the government would provide the vaccination free of charge. On the other hand, the Bangladesh government has demonstrated its trustworthiness in vaccine diplomacy in several ways under the dynamic leadership of Sheikh Hasina. 

The first is that the government could negotiate a deal with the Serum Institute of India to acquire 30 million doses of the Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine within the shortest possible time. The agreement's most essential clause stated that Serum Institute would provide vaccines in six consignments containing five million doses. Another requirement was that the Serum Institute would provide the first shipment of the vaccine within thirty days of the Bangladeshi drug administration's clearance. 

The government's second critical strategic choice is to give free vaccinations to about 14 crore people. We all know that minors under 18 are not authorised to receive the vaccination because no clinical research has been conducted on this population.

As per the provision of the contract, the Serum Institute started sending their consignments along with 3.2 million doses of the vaccines as the gift of the Indian Prime Minister on the eve of the celebration of the 50 years of the country's independence and the birth centenary of our Father of the Nation. 

Therefore, the government started the mass vaccination process from the first week of February 2021. The immunisation process was going swimmingly. However, due to the Indian government's imposition of a vaccine embargo because of the deteriorating COVID-19 situation in the second wave, the Serum Institute was forced to suspend shipping consignments of vaccines in Bangladesh. As a result, there was growing concern about the continuation of the vaccination process. 

After failing to receive vaccinations from the Serum Institute, Bangladesh's government began looking for other vaccine suppliers. As a result, after several dialogues, they signed a deal with Russia's Sputnik V and China's Sinopharm. China and Bangladesh engaged in several discussions. Finally, the government chose the Sinopharm to deliver 15 million vaccination doses. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has sent Bangladesh 1.1 million vaccination doses as a gift.

It is regrettable to report that the WHO has failed to assure equity in vaccine distribution. The world's giant economies, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and China, account for a lion share of vaccinations manufactured. As a result, it is critical to consider assuring vaccination distribution's equity among different nations worldwide.

The Bangladesh government should continue to discuss the vaccination issue with its Indian counterpart. Meanwhile, India's Foreign Minister has hinted that the country's decision on vaccine import may be reconsidered in July-August. Bangladesh's government should take advantage of this opportunity to obtain additional vaccinations from India. We should pay greater attention to the accumulation of these vaccinations for our population as the efficacy of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been proclaimed by international communities. We know that India has been a reliable partner of Bangladesh since the country's independence. As a result, reaching an agreement on importing vaccines from Serum Institute would not be a challenging feat. Therefore, both sides should sit together and try to solve this problem collectively.

We have already witnessed the Sheikh Hasina government's success in vaccine diplomacy. When many governments across the globe were struggling to organise immunisations for their population, more than 10 million Bangladeshis already received second doses of vaccine. Therefore, we want to keep trust in our Prime Minister, who has the credibility to persuade the Indian government to allow vaccinations to be imported into Bangladesh. We anticipate that both friendly neighboring nations will reach an agreement on the vaccine diplomacy deal soon.

During the pandemic, the government's foreign policy plays an important role in combating the fatal virus's disastrous consequences as an extension of domestic or national policy. Domestic and international policy is, in essence, two sides of the same coin, as domestic policies are developed and implemented following the broad direction of foreign policy. As a result, a government's economic and social status quo is not the sole determinant of its success. Instead, the government's legitimacy is determined by its ability to maintain contact with international communities and neighboring nations, especially during the darkest period of the century. From this vantage point, Sheikh Hasina has demonstrated her credibility in dealing with vaccination diplomacy. 

Now is the time to rethink the strategy of vaccine diplomacy and re-engage in vaccination negotiations with India.

Dr. Pranab Kumar Panday is a Professor of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi.