Nepal to purchase 4 million doses of Sinopharm vaccine from ChinaOfficials say procurement will be under a non-disclosure agreement. Price is not disclosed yet but is said to be around $10 per dose. No other details are available.
Increasingly under pressure to acquire vaccines at the earliest, the government has decided to buy four million doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine. Officials confirmed that a Cabinet meeting on Monday took a decision to that effect as per a proposal moved by the Ministry of Health, but details like price and when the vaccines will arrive were not immediately known.
“The Cabinet has authorised the vaccine procurement unit of the Ministry of Health to buy four million doses of the vaccine from China,” Minister for Industry, Supplies and Commerce Rajkishwor Yadhav told the Post. “Other issues including price, logistics, transportation will be looked into by the government agencies concerned.”
At least two government officials said that the vaccines would be bought under a non-disclosure agreement, as proposed by Sinopharm. Nepal’s procurement laws, however, do not allow a non-disclosure agreement.
A non-disclosure agreement implies a legally binding contract, establishing a confidential relationship, which would mean many details, including the price, are not made public.
“The proposal to purchase vaccines from China was sent to the Cabinet, as a special permission was needed for signing a non-disclosure agreement,” Dr Roshan Pokhrel, chief specialist at the Health Ministry, told the Post. “The proposal approved by the Cabinet will be forwarded to the agencies concerned in China. Price and other issues will be determined accordingly.”
According to Pokhrel, the Health Ministry is expecting all the due process would be completed within a week.
Since the agreement is a non-disclosure type, how much Nepal will be paying for vaccines is anyone's guess.
A minister said discussion on the price at the Cabinet meeting was out of question because of the non-disclosure agreement. He, however, said that it could be around $20 for two doses. The minister did not provide any basis for that.
Two senior government officials who have been involved in negotiations for buying vaccines from China said that the Chinese side has agreed to “provide the jabs at a discounted price.”
According to a Health Ministry official, $20 for two doses would still be too costly for Nepal.
Nepal so far has paid for vaccines only once. The government in February signed a deal with the Serum Institute of India to buy 2 million doses of Covishield, the AstraZeneca type vaccine, at $4 per dose. The Serum Institute, however, expressed its inability to supply the remaining doses of the vaccine after a delivery of 1 million doses.
Compared to $4 per dose, the Chinese vaccine is very expensive, but many say more than the price, the non-disclosure agreement is a concern.
Officials familiar with the vaccine procurement process say if the government can buy two doses at $20, it would be far cheaper than what Nepali firms were eying at.
An official handling the correspondence with the Chinese side said the two private firms had quoted $69 for two doses.
“After checking the background of the firms and the price, the government decided to directly deal with Sinopharm,” said the official who did not want to be named.
It is, however, not clear how the government is going to sign the non-disclosure agreement. The Oli administration last month introduced a “sunset” law through an ordinance so as to ease some procurement processes, but it does not explicitly talk about the non-disclosure agreement.
Experts told the Post last month that even if the government changes the procurement law to sign the non-disclosure agreement, it won’t be able to use the funds provided by donors like the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank to buy vaccines from China.
The government must provide all the details, including the price, to the donors if the money provided by them is used to buy vaccines.
Vaccines at undisclosed prices from China have become an issue in some other countries as well, including Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, lately.
Last month, The Daily Star reported that disclosure of the price of Sinopharm vaccines sparked confusion. The paper said after the $10 per dose price was reported, a finance ministry official requested the media not to mention the price for the "greater interest of the country".
Reports had also emerged that disclosure of procurement price of China's Sinopharm vaccine in Sri Lanka sparked a row. The reports suggested that Colombo had to shell out a higher per-dose price than its fellow South Asian country Bangladesh. According to media reports, Sri Lanka would buy Sinopharm vaccines at $15 per dose.
Nepal has so far received 1.8 million doses of Sinopharm vaccine, but they were provided for free under a grant assistance by the Chinese government.
India had provided 1 million doses of Covihield in January, helping Nepal launch its vaccination drive. In February, another 1 million doses of the 2 million doses for which the government had paid the Serum Institute of India arrived. In March, COVAX, an international vaccine sharing scheme backed by the United Nations, provided 348,000 doses of Covishield. The Indian Army had provided 100,000 doses of Covishield to the Nepal Army in March.
After India faced a Covid-19 crisis of its own, chances of procuring vaccines from the southern neighbour faded. The country is now in a desperate need of vaccines and trying to procure them from wherever it can–China, the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia.
The government has been making an appeal and using all its diplomatic efforts to buy vaccines, but to no avail. Nepal needs at least 1.4 million doses of AstraZeneca almost immediately as the people above 65 years had taken their first shots between March 7 and March 15.
Officials say the government, however, must continue to make efforts to procure vaccines–not just AstraZeneca but any other that is available–as no one is safe until everyone is safe.
Pokhrel, the chief specialist at the Health Ministry, said the market price of the Chinese vaccine is too high for Nepal.
“We hope that the Chinese government will provide concessions for a few million doses,” said Pokhrel. “We have to pay as per the market price for any additional doses we buy.”
(Arjun Poudel contributed reporting.)