By Ruma Paul
DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh could receive 1 million doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine from the WHO-backed COVAX facility this month, and the Serum Institute of India could resume supplies from August, its health minister said on Tuesday.
Densely populated Bangladesh is in desperate need of vaccines as a jump in infections has filled up hospitals and depleted supplies of medical oxygen.
"We may receive 1 million doses from COVAX this month," Zahid Maleque told reporters, without elaborating if they would be produced by the Serum Institute (SII).
He said SII could resume direct supplies of Covishield, a licensed version of the AstraZeneca shot to Bangladesh from next month. Indian producers including SII, the main supplier to COVAX, stopped all vaccine exports in the middle of April to meet local demand as infections shot up.
"We are told that they (SII) will start sending vaccine doses in August," Maleque said. "They haven't specified the number of doses but assured us it won't be small."
An SII spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. SII said in May it hoped to restart exports only by the end of this year.
Bangladesh has a deal for 30 million Covishield doses with SII but has only received 7 million, which it has used to fully immunise about 3% of its 170 million people.
The country urgently needs 1.5 million doses to fully immunise other recipients of a first dose, and has sought help from the United States, Canada and others.
Bangladesh has also received 2 million of the 15 million doses of Sinopharm vaccine it has ordered, as well as 2.5 million doses of Moderna's vaccine and 100,000 of Pfizer's through COVAX.
"It's critical that richer countries share more vaccines with Bangladesh in the coming days and weeks to help avoid the horrors caused by COVID-19 in India," said Sanjeev Kafely, Bangladesh head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Additional reporting by Krishna N. Das; editing by John Stonestreet)