Deal to buy 6 million vaccine doses from China likely soon, officials sayThe deal, like the earlier one with a state-backed company, will be under a non-disclosure agreement. The 1.6 million AstraZeneca doses from Japan are due to arrive in a week.
As Nepal’s vaccination campaign gathers pace, the government is preparing to sign a deal to purchase an additional 6 million doses of Vero Cell vaccine from China.
Multiple officials the Post talked to confirmed that the government will reach a deal shortly with the Chinese state-backed pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm that manufactures the Covid-19 vaccine.
“We are very close to a deal to procure an additional 6 million doses of vaccine from China,” a senior official at the Health Ministry told the Post, asking not to be named.
Earlier in June, the government purchased 4 million doses of the vaccine under a non-disclosure agreement with the Chinese company and they are being delivered. Nepal has so far received the delivery of 1.6 million doses and the remaining shots are likely to be flown in from Beijing over the next few days.
The first consignment of the vaccine was delivered on July 9 and the second consignment on July 22.
China, which has already provided 1.8 million doses of BBIBP-CorV vaccines produced by Sinopharm under grant assistance, has announced that it will provide an additional 1.6 million doses.
“We have requested the vaccine manufacturer to give additional discounts, as we are procuring more doses from them,” Dr Tara Nath Pokhrel, director at the Family Welfare Division under the Department of Health Services, told the Post. “As the government is committed to inoculating the maximum number of people at the earliest, a deal to procure additional doses of the Vero Cell vaccine is likely to be reached soon.”
The Health Ministry said that the new deal to procure 6 million doses will also be under a non-disclosure agreement, meaning that the price per dose will not be revealed, as per the condition of the Chinese vaccine manufacturing company.
Besides deliveries from China, officials are also expecting 1.6 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to arrive from Japan through the COVAX facility, the UN-backed international vaccine sharing scheme, within a week.
“We will administer those vaccines to around 1.4 million people aged 65 years and above, who have taken the first doses of the Covishield vaccine but have been deprived of booster shots for a long time,” said Pokhrel.
The Health Ministry had administered the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine to the elderly between March 7 and 15 with the delivery of 1 million doses of the vaccine from the Serum Institute of India and 348,000 provided by the COVAX facility.
Although Nepal had paid for 2 million doses of the vaccine that Serum Institute markets under the brand name Covishield, the company did not deliver the remaining doses, as India restricted export of vaccines following a devastating second wave of the coronavirus in the country in April which infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands.
“We are still unaware as to when the Serum Institute of India will deliver the vaccine we purchased,” said Pokhrel. “We heard that the talks held at the political leadership level were positive but we don’t know when that will translate into action.”
On Monday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his telephone conversation with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba had assured that India would resume the supply of vaccines soon.
An official at the Health Ministry said that talks are also being held to purchase the Pfizer vaccine and the manufacturing company is positive about selling them to Nepal.
“To purchase the Pfizer vaccine, we have to improve our vaccine storage,” an official at the Department of Health Services told the Post, asking not to be named.
The US Food and Drug Administration allows the storage of Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at normal refrigerator temperature (2 to 8 degrees Celsius) for up to a month. Earlier it was said that vaccines made by Pfizer needed to be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius.
As Nepal has been getting vaccines, storage capacity has been an issue as the central vaccine storage facility in Kathmandu can store only 1 million doses of the Chinese vaccine, which come in a dose per vial, at temperatures between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius.
“We can no longer make excuses that we have no vaccine storage capacity,” said the Department of Health Services official. “We have to make it and we will do it, as we have to immunise a huge number of our population.”
The Health Ministry has been preparing to administer the Covid-19 vaccine to all those over the age of 18.
“We are preparing to give vaccines to all people aged 18 years and above,”
Dr Roshan Pokhrel, the newly promoted secretary at the Health Ministry, told the Post. “Those who’ve applied for the vaccine through online registration will be the priority.”
But only 1.4 million people have so far registered their names for vaccination.
“I would like to request everyone to fill an online form to get the vaccine,” he said.
According to P0khrel of the Family Welfare Division, the government plans to give the first dose to as many people as possible if the timely arrival of the second dose is assured by the manufacturing company.
So far, 3,377,228 people have been administered the first dose of Covid-19 vaccine and of them 1,366,046 have been fully immunised. Those administered single shots of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine with the 1.5 million doses given in grant by the United States through the COVAX facility are counted as fully immunised.
Besides priority groups like health workers, people’s representatives, employees of banks and financial institutions and migrant workers, the government has included those aged 50 years and above in the vaccination campaign so far but inoculation has been uneven with reports of people using influence to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
Nepal witnessed a second wave from April in which more than 6,500 people lost their lives. The government imposed prohibitory orders in most of the country and in Kathmandu it was imposed from April 29. But from June the orders were gradually relaxed with long-distance bus services resuming from Saturday.
However, as life has returned to more or less normal with the resumption of public transport and reopening of the market, the number of new cases continues to grow.
On Saturday, 2,309 people tested positive in 10,625 polymerase chain reaction tests and an additional 805 tested positive in 4,285 antigen tests. Daily case positivity rate of the PCR tests is over 22 percent, which doctors say is very high.
So far, 679,019 people have been infected with the coronavirus and 9,695 have lost their lives to Covid-19 related complications. The fatality count for Saturday is 16.
According to the ministry, 10 districts including the three Valley districts—Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur—have more than 500 active cases each and 26 districts have active cases exceeding 200.
The number of districts having active cases more than 500 and 200 has increased over the last week, the ministry said.
Public health experts say that authorities should make every effort to buy vaccines and administer them to the population at the earliest, as the country could be in the initial stage of the third pandemic wave.
“Vaccines should be administered to as many people as possible and as soon as possible,” Dr Biraj Karmacharya, an epidemiologist, told the Post. “We don’t know how bad the third wave will be. Before the third wave hits the country, we should try to inoculate a maximum number of people.”