Nepal government lax in bringing Chinese grant of vaccines

Nepal Government has failed to bring the anti-COVID vaccines provided by China as grant.

As many as 800,000 doses of vaccines produced by the Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm are stuck in Beijing because Nepal government has failed to arrange its import.

Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi had announced on March 1 that a total of 800,000 doses of vaccines would be provided to Nepal as grant. Before that, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi had promised that China would provide 500,000 doses of vaccines against COVID-19 to Nepal.

Though China had announced that it would provide the vaccines as grant, Nepal government is responsible to transport the jabs into the country from the Northern neighbor. Reportedly, the vaccines are currently kept at a store in Beijing.

The vaccines were originally said to arrive in Nepal by the end of February, but Nepal has not sent any planes or cargo to ferry them as of yet.

According to Minister for Health and Population Hridayesh Tripathi, preparations are underway to bring the vaccines from China soon. He added that his Ministry had requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation to import the vaccines.

As per a senior official of the Nepal Airlines Corporation, the Ministry of Health has requested a chartered plane to bring the vaccines from China. It has been reported that a Nepal Airlines flight could soon bring the vaccines.

The Department of Drug Management had, on February 16, approved the emergency use of the China-made vaccines in Nepal.

The government has so far received about 2.3 million doses of Covishield vaccines, including paid-for and grant.

Nepal first received 1,000,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine called Covishield free of charge from India on January 22 under Narendra Modi’s ‘neighbors first policy’.

The vaccine is manufactured by Serum Institute of India (SSI) in collaboration with the University of Oxford and the British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

On February 21, as many as 1,000,000 doses of Covishield vaccines arrived in Kathmandu from India. The government had signed an agreement with the India’s Serum Institute on February 17 to purchase 2,000,000 doses of Covishield vaccines, of which the first batch were brought on February 21.

For the second batch of vaccines, however, SSI has sent a letter to Nepal’s Department of Drug Management stating that it cannot provide the remaining one million doses.

SSI said that it will not be able to supply the remaining one million doses and could eventually scrap the procurement deal.

Hence, stepping back from its erstwhile decision to allow private sector to procure or administer anti-COVID vaccines only after inoculating at least 20 percent of the total population free of cost, the government has also started preparations to allow private sector to import the jabs.

Similarly, Nepal received 348,000 doses of Covisheild vaccines along with 350,000 syringes and 3,500 vaccine safety boxes under the COVAX initiative on March 7.

Nepal launched its immunisation drive on January 27 beginning with medical workers, and plans to eventually cover 72% of the country’s 30 million people.

According to the data with the Ministry of Health and Population, as many as 1,605,703 people have been vaccinated against COVID-19 across country as of Tuesday, which was the last day for the second phase of the nationwide vaccination drive.

In recent years, China and India have jockeyed for influence in Nepal and poured millions of dollars into aid and investment in infrastructure.

But demand for vaccines in the country with poor health infrastructure has offered India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, a way to claw back ground. India has donated or sold COVID-19 shots to two dozen countries.