Nepal set to sign deal to buy 6 million doses of Pfizer-BioNtech vaccineOfficials say the vaccine is being purchased under a non-disclosure agreement with World Bank funding.
Nepal is all set to sign a deal with the manufacturers of the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine to buy 6 million doses of the vaccine.
According to officials at the Health Ministry, preparations are in the final stages and a deal is likely to be signed with the company after Dashain holidays.
“The procurement will be made under a non-disclosure agreement, as per the request from the manufacturing company,” said an official at the Health Ministry who did not wish to be named because he was not allowed to speak to the media.
On non-disclosure agreement, the official said that it should not be a problem as Nepal has already reached a similar deal with China to buy the Vero Cell vaccine. Nepal bought 10 million doses of Vero Cell under a non-disclosure agreement with the manufacturing company, Sinopharm. Nepal’s law, however, does not allow signing a non-disclosure agreement.
An official said the government will duly follow the conditions set by the World Bank even if the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine is brought under a non-disclosure agreement.
Nepal has signed a concessional loan agreement with multilateral funding agencies like the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank to support Nepal’s resilient recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nepal and the World Bank signed a $150 million (Rs17.78 billion) concessional loan agreement in June.
In August, Nepal became the second country globally to have completed agreements with GAVI to procure 4 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, financed by the World Bank, through the COVAX cost-share option.
Delivery of the vaccine is expected to start from March 2022 and will contribute to Nepal’s goal to vaccinate at least 72 percent of the population, as well as children of 12-17 years age group for whom the Moderna vaccine is deemed safe and effective, the World Bank said.
In August, the Asian Development Bank and the Nepal government signed a $165 million (nearly Rs20 billion) loan agreement to purchase safe and effective vaccines against Covid-19.
When the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine arrives, this will be the fourth type of Covid-19 vaccine to be used in Nepal.
Nepal so far has used AstraZeneca, Sinopharm and Johnson & Johnson vaccines to inoculate its population. China has also offered to provide 1 million doses of the Sinovac-CoronaVac vaccine.
Pfizer-BioNtech is an mRNA vaccine.
It is said that the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine was 95 percent effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed infection with the coronavirus, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Dr Bibek Kumar Lal, director at the Family Welfare Division, said that the deal will be a big boost for Nepal’s vaccination campaign.
According to the CDC, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is also highly effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 infection in adolescents between 12-15 years of age, and the immune response in these adolescents was at least as strong as the immune response in people aged 16 to 25 in clinical trials.
“Evidence shows mRNA Covid-19 vaccines offer similar protection in real-world conditions as they have in clinical trial settings—reducing the risk of Covid-19, including severe illness by 90 percent or more, among people who are fully vaccinated,” the CDC said on its website.
The Department of Drug Administration, the national regulatory body of the drugs market, has already given emergency use authorisation for the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine at the request of the Department of Health Services. Usually, the vaccine manufacturer makes such a request.
There, however, is a catch.
Before the doses arrive, Nepal needs to set up new storage facilities for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which needs to be stored in minus 70 degrees Celsius.
Health Ministry officials said that work has already started to set up a facility to store Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine.
COVAX, the United Nations-based international vaccine sharing scheme, has provided four ultra cold freezers to store the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine, according to Upendra Dhungana, chief of the Logistic Management Section under the Department of Health Services.
The four freezers can store over 100,000 doses.
“Storage will not be an issue and by the time the doses arrive, we will have the storage facility ready,” Dhungana told the Post.
The Health Ministry has been mulling over providing these jabs to people with their immunity compromised, which include patients of cancer, renal failure and heart disease, among others.
Authorities have also prepared guidelines for using Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine and imparted training to immunisation workers.
Nepal so far has received 18,857,590 doses of Vero Cell, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
Nepal started its campaign to vaccinate its citizens against Covid-19 on January 27 with the 1 million doses of Covishield, the AstraZeneca type vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. Nepal in February placed an order for 2 million doses of the vaccine, but after supplying 1 million doses, the Serum Institute expressed its inability to supply the remaining doses as India put a ban on vaccine exports citing a surge in cases. COVAX, which has committed to supply around 13 million doses to Nepal, was also hit hard due to India’s decision to put a ban on vaccine exports.
Nepal’s vaccination campaign faced a setback. People aged 65 and above who took their first shot could receive their second dose only in August after Bhutan and Japan shipped 230,000 doses and 1,614,740 doses, respectively.
Meanwhile, Nepal received some Vero Cell doses in grants from China. The government has already purchased 10 million doses of Vero Cell from China
In July, the United States shipped 1,534,850 doses of single-shot Janssen vaccine under COVAX.
COVAX so far has provided 348,000 doses of Covishield to Nepal.
The Serum Institute supplied the remaining 1 million doses to Nepal on Saturday.
With more vaccines in sight, officials expect the vaccination campaign will soon pick up pace.
Nepal has also signed a deal with the COVAX facility to purchase 9.9 million doses (5.9 million doses of Vero Cell and 4 million doses of Moderna vaccine) under a cost-sharing mechanism, which means the government will pay COVAX the amount equivalent to what COVAX pays to vaccine manufacturers.
Nepal needs to vaccinate around 78 percent of its 30 million population–or around 25 million people, as per the government’s new plan that includes those aged between 12 and 14. The government earlier had planned to vaccinate only those aged above 14 years.
Since around 4-5 million people are said to be living abroad, the government needs to vaccinate around 19-20 million people. For this, the country needs a little over 40 million doses of double-shot vaccine.
The country so far has vaccinated 6,462,776 people (21.54 percent of the total population).
“Our ongoing vaccination programme will not be hampered due to supply issues like in the past,” Dr Roshan Pokhrel, secretary at the Ministry, told the Post. “We have already paid for some vaccines and have been trying to clinch new deals to secure more doses.”