Officials unaware of Russia supplying 25 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to NepalMultiple officials from various agencies, including the foreign and health ministries, say they do not know about the purported deal with any private firm with regards to Russian vaccines arriving in Nepal.
As countries are racing to find a vaccine for the coronavirus, reports on Tuesday suggested that Russia would supply 25 million doses of its potential vaccine to Nepal, but officials in the government said they were unaware of any such development.
Reuters reported that Russia’s sovereign wealth had agreed to supply 25 million doses of its potential Covid-19 vaccine to Nepal via Trinity Pharmaceuticals, which has been described as a private healthcare firm and key distributor in Nepal.
It looked like it came as a huge respite for Nepal when coronavirus cases are rising by the day, but multiple officials the Post spoke to expressed their ignorance about vaccines arriving in Nepal anytime soon–neither from Russia or any other country.
The Department of Drug Administration, which is the national drug regulatory body, said that no company has applied to supply Russian vaccines to Nepal so far.
“I wonder if it is a political stunt,” Narayan Dhakal, director general at the Department of Drug Administration, told the Post. “We have not received any application from any firm to supply [Covid-19] vaccines as of now.”
According to the Reuters report, Trinity Pharmaceuticals will supply the Russian vaccine to Nepal.
“Trinity Pharmaceuticals is not a drug manufacturing company in Nepal,” Dhakal told the Post. “It might be a company involved in tender business, but we have not received any application from any firm to supply Covid-19 vaccines from anywhere.”
As countries across the world are working to find a vaccine against Covid-19, vaccine diplomacy too has started and Nepal has so far been approached by at least three countries for clinical trials.
Last month, Nepal’s Health Ministry said that China, Russia and UK’s Oxford University Group have shown interest to conduct Phase III clinical trials for the coronavirus vaccine. Multiple health experts the Post spoke to then had said there was nothing wrong in conducting clinical trials but they stressed full compliance with the procedures.
There was no word from government officials regarding importing vaccines from any other country over the last month. Nor has there been any official confirmation regarding the use of vaccines against coronavirus developed by any country.
Covid-19 vaccine as of now has become more a diplomatic issue than a health subject.
Reports last month suggested that the vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd was being trialled in the United Arab Emirates and that a private firm in Nepal had been approached for using the vaccine in the employees.
The Health Ministry said earlier this month that Hongshi Shivam Cement in Nepal sought permission to inoculate its 1,000 employees as part of phase III clinical trial of Chinese vaccine.
“India, which is wary of Beijing’s intentions in South Asia, has responded to China’s offers of vaccines for Bangladesh and Nepal with its own pledges to provide its allies with vaccines,” the New York Times reported earlier this month. The Times said that China was promoting its vaccines to win friends from Asia to Africa
The Nepal government, however, has not made any clear position on the use of coronavirus vaccines. Nor has it officially initiated any process to procure vaccines from any country that manages to develop one.
Reports suggesting vaccines from Russia to Nepal come at a time when questions have been raised if Moscow has indeed completed testing.
The New York Times reported last month that Russia became the first in the world to approve a possible vaccine against the virus, despite global health authorities saying that the vaccine had yet to complete critical, late-stage clinical trials to determine its safety and effectiveness.
Amid this, reports suggesting that Russia is providing vaccines to Nepal came as a shock for many Nepali officials.
Rishi Ram Ghimire, Nepal’s ambassador to Russia, told the Post over phone from Moscow that the embassy is not aware of the development regarding the supply of coronavirus vaccines to Nepal.
“Once President Vladimir Putin had made an announcement regarding the approval of the vaccine,” said Ghimire. “But I am not aware of any agreement between Moscow and Kathmadu regarding the supply of the vaccines.”
That Russia is supplying vaccines to Nepal came into public domain through a press statement by the Russian Direct Investment Fund, Russia's sovereign wealth fund established in 2011 by the Russian government to make investments in leading companies of high-growth sectors of the Russian economy.
“Russia's sovereign wealth fund, and one of the leading pharmaceutical distributors in Nepal, Trinity Pharmaceuticals, have agreed to supply to the country 25 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine based on a well-studied human adenoviral vectors platform,” according to the statement.
“We are excited to announce our cooperation with Russian Direct Investment Fund. Trinity is waiting for results of the final trial of Sputnik V,” the statement quoted Kishor Adhikari, director of Trinity Pharmaceuticals, as saying. “As soon as the vaccine is approved by the government of Nepal we will make it available for the population of Nepal.”
The Post, however, could not independently verify the deal between the Russian Direct Investment Fund and Trinity Pharmaceuticals.
Foreign Secretary Shanker Das Bairagi said that the Foreign Ministry is not aware of any agreement regarding Russia supplying Covid-19 vaccines to Nepal.
“Check with the Health Ministry,” said Bairagi.
When the Post reached out to the Health Ministry, it also expressed ignorance about Russia supplying Covid-19 vaccines to Nepal.
“The ministry has no idea about this,” Dr Sameer Adhikari, joint spokesperson for the Health Ministry, told the Post. “No decision has been made so far to introduce Russian vaccine.”
When asked about the Reuters report, which was picked by various Nepali media, Adhikari said he could not say from where the information came and how it was disseminated to the media.
“We do not know how the news reports came,” Adhikari told the Post.
Experts say importing a vaccine which is yet to be tried and tested properly is simply out of question and especially when it comes to Covid-19, the whole world is still confused.
According to Dhakal of the Department of Drug Administration, respective vaccine manufacturing companies must be registered in Nepal to supply vaccines and they have to go through due process.
The process includes application for supply, documents of completion of Phase III trial and a thorough review from a panel of experts.
“At times the Cabinet can take special decisions to introduce vaccines for life-saving purposes and direct relevant agencies to follow the instructions,” said Dhakal. “But I have never heard about such a decision taken so far. And such a decision on Covid-19 vaccine, if any taken, I am at least not aware of.”
The Nepal Health Research Council, whose approval is a must for clinical trials of any vaccine, also said that it does not know about the Russina vaccines coming to Nepal.
“No one has applied for a trial for Covid-19 vaccine with us,” Dr Pradeep Gyawali, executive chief of the council, told the Post.
Anil Giri contributed reporting.