India’s surge in coronavirus cases is having a dangerous effect on neighboring Bangladesh, with health experts warning of imminent vaccine shortages just as the country should be stepping up jabs and as more contagious virus variants are beginning to be detected.
On Saturday, health authorities said that for the first time, a coronavirus variant originally identified in India was found in Bangladesh, without providing further details. For weeks, South African variants have dominated the samples sequenced in Bangladesh. There are concerns that these versions spread more easily and that first-generation vaccines could be less effective against them.
“This is the time to vaccinate, keep infections low and make sure that new variants don’t emerge here,” said Senjuti Saha, a scientist at the Child Health Research Foundation in Bangladesh, who is also sequencing the virus.
However, India has banned the export of vaccines as it grapples with the crisis at home. The Serum Institute of India was supposed to supply 30 million doses — 5 million a month — to Bangladesh by June. But the institute has only supplied 7 million doses and has suspended further shipments since February.
Since March of last year, when the first COVID-19 case was detected in Bangladesh, the country has reported 770,842 confirmed cases and 11,833 deaths.