When vaccines arriveThe government must make the vaccine available for free to every citizen.
Last week, aid groups warned that many developing countries would see almost no vaccine next year because richer countries have bought up more than 50 percent of the vaccine doses expected to be produced in 2021, including those produced by Pfizer-BioNTech, which has already received emergency approval in six countries and the Moderna vaccine, which is most likely the next in line.
According to the People’s Vaccine Alliance, which includes Amnesty International, Frontline AIDS, Global Justice Now and Oxfam, an analysis of deals done between countries and the eight leading vaccine candidates show that 67 low- and lower-middle-income countries risk being left behind as rich countries hoard doses enough to vaccinate their populations nearly three times over.
Nepal has sent diplomatic notes to at least five countries, whose vaccines against the coronavirus have either received emergency approval or are nearing their third phase trials, seeking their support to make the vaccines available to Nepalis. While the government has also amended the existing law through an ordinance to facilitate the procurement of a suitable vaccine, it has to do a lot more given how wealthy countries are hoarding all they can while pharmaceutical corporations retain exclusive rights over their drugs, despite public funding in developing their vaccines.
One of the most promising vaccines for Nepal is the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which is being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, which has already stockpiled more than 50 million doses. The vaccine, which awaits emergency-use approvals, is also part of the COVAX pact led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance to allow equitable access to poorer countries, which Nepal has already signed up for.
The Oli administration must be on tiptoes and follow all developments of the AstraZeneca vaccine as it is the only vaccine to date to have its efficacy and safety peer-reviewed. The World Health Organisation, under the COVAX pact, will also supply vaccines for 20 percent of the population of Nepal, and unlike Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna which are expensive and require ultra freezers, the AstraZeneca vaccine can be stored in regular freezers which makes it the best candidate for Nepal.
Through the COVAX pact, it is expected that a billion doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be manufactured and provided at manufacturing cost to developing countries, but there have also been reports of bilateral deals, which raises concerns of supply for a country like Nepal. In India, where the vaccine is being manufactured by the world’s biggest vaccine maker, the Serum Institute of India also expects to sell hundreds of millions of doses at home, which currently has the world’s second-highest infections. Regulators in India are also considering emergency use authorisation of Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Bharat Biotech within this month.
Earlier in March, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had hosted a video conference where SAARC members came together to pledge cooperation and collaboration to fight the effects of the global outbreak of Covid-19. Modi’s government this month also committed to partner with interested countries in vaccine-related efforts. As Nepal and India prepare to hold meetings of their foreign ministers in Delhi to bolster bilateral ties, the Oli administration must also take this opportunity to chalk out a regional partnership to ensure that a vaccine against Covid-19 is accessible as early as possible.
The government should enable all its diplomatic machinery and leave no stone unturned to acquire life-saving vaccines at the earliest. There should be no last-minute cry for lack of funds, human resource or logistical issues either. We have a rich experience of conducting mass inoculation campaigns, which has been acknowledged for their effectiveness. Immunising everyone and making the vaccine available for free to every citizen is the government’s biggest mandate right now. It must do so, in full transparency and in a manner that ensures jabs for all.