Vaccines arriving in Nepal one year after the country reported its first Covid-19 caseOne million doses of coronavirus vaccine to land in Nepal today under grant assistance from India, which, officials say would be used for frontline workers.
Nepal is going to get the first lot of Covid-19 vaccines on Thursday, just days before the country marks one year of the first coronavirus case.
“India is providing one million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to Nepal under grant assistance,” Health Minister Hridayesh Tripathi said on Wednesday at a joint press meet organised by the Health Ministry and the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu. “The first consignment will arrive on Thursday.”
Indian Ambassador to Nepal Vinay Mohan Kwatra said that Nepal is among few countries to receive the vaccine manufactured in India.
“This is a gift from the government of India and the people of India to Nepal,” said Kwatra. “Nepal is getting the vaccines within a week after India rolled out its vaccination drive, which signifies the friendship between India and Nepal and the importance India attaches to Nepal.”
The vaccines that India, which launched its vaccination drive against Covid-19 on Saturday, is providing to Nepal are developed by the University of Oxford and drug manufacturing giant AstraZeneca and produced by the Serum Institute of India.
“This is a historic day for us and a unique example of Nepal-India friendship,” said Tripathi.
The coronavirus, which was first detected in Wuhan of China in December 2019, became a menace in the entire 2020, forcing countries to race for a cure.
It took companies almost a year to manufacture vaccines and complete three phases of trials before they could be rolled out for inoculation.
As the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia, China and some other countries launched their vaccinations drives against the coronavirus which has infected 96,722,769 and killed 2,068,154 across the world, there were concerns in Nepal over when the vaccines will arrive in the country.
Nepal confirmed its first Covid-19 case on January 24 last year. So far, 268,310 have been infected and 1,975 have died of Covid-19.
According to Tripathi, vaccines provided by India will be administered to frontline workers–health workers, supporting staff serving in the hospitals, ambulance drivers, security personnels, those deployed in body management and others.
The announcement that the first lot of vaccines will arrive in Nepal comes days after Nepal’s drug regulator granted emergency use approval for Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines.
The government is planning to inoculate 20 percent (or 6 million) of its population in the first phase to immunise people above the age of 60 in addition to frontline health workers, for which the country will need at least 12 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine.
Nepal will have to inoculate 72 percent of its 29 million population against the coronavirus as 28 percent of children under the age of 14.
Children under 14 years of age, who constitute 28 percent of the population can’t be immunised as vaccines haven’t been tested on them.
“To inoculate 72 percent of our population, we will need additional doses of the vaccines which we will procure very soon,” said Tripathi.
Nepal has been planning to procure vaccines from India after the southern neighbour cleared phase III trial for Covishield a few days ago.
During Foreign Minister Pradeep Gywali’s visit to New Delhi last week, securing a deal on getting somes doses of vaccines under grant assistance and easing procurement of the vaccines from India was high on the agenda.
However, no deal could be signed during Gyawali’s Delhi visit.
Officials and diplomats, however, had told the Post that India had given assurances that it would soon supply some doses of the vaccines to Nepal under grant assistance.
It was on Tuesday evening India’s Ministry of External Affairs announced that Nepal is on the list of countries to which it will start supplying the vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India. The ministry said that India will supply Covid-19 vaccines to Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Seychelles from January 20.
Kwatra said that India has coordinated with Nepal since day one to help Nepal in the fight against the coronavirus, by providing safety gears, polymerase chain reaction machines and reagents and ventilators, among others.
“Cooperation on Covid-19 was one of the important issues during Foreign Minister Gyawali’s visit to New Delhi last week with his counterpart S Jaishankar,” said Kwatra at Wednesday’s press conference.
Covishield is the preferred choice of the vaccine of Nepali authorities since the existing storage and transportation infrastructure used in the country to immunise children can be utilised. Covishield vaccines have to be stored in plus temperature between 2 to 8 degree Celsius.
Nepal has also been assured that vaccines to inncoulcate 3 percent of the population will be received from the World Health Organisation’s COVAX programme by April. The UN body will provide enough vaccines for 20 percent of the population in the form of a grant, according to officials at the Health Ministry.
Agencies under the Health Ministry have made a priority list of the people to administer the vaccine.
“We have 911,000 people on the first priority list,” Dr Roshan Pokhrel, chief specialist at the Health Ministry, told the Post. “If we get all doses at once on Thursday, we will supply them to all 77 districts within two to three days.”
The ministry is working on holding discussions with experts about whether to immunise all the people on the first priority list or half of them, as the vaccines gifted by India will be sufficient just for less than 500,000 people.
Each person needs two doses of vaccine and some doses of vaccine may be wasted due to various factors.
According to doctors, around 10 percent of the vaccines get wasted in general during all vaccination drives.
“The consignment we are receiving on Thursday is part of India’s commitment to help us in the fight against the pandemic,” said Pokhrel. “As we can administer a second dose within a month we can administer all people on the first list from health facilities throughout the country simultaneously.”
The ministry has planned to administer coronavirus vaccines from district hospitals across the country.
Public health experts say the arrival of the coronavirus vaccine is a positive move when Nepal is trying to fight the pandemic.
“Arrival of vaccines and the decision to immunise frontline workers in the first phase is very good news,” Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of Clinical Research Unit at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, told the Post. “Authorities should also expedite the process to bring additional doses so as to protect the people, who are in high risk groups and those who are vulnerable.”