Nepal Vaccination Drive Could Be Affected As India Halts Exports Of AstraZeneca Vaccines

Arjun Poudel

Reports that India is halting exports of Covid-19 vaccines, the AstraZeneca type manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, come as a concern for Nepal which has suspended its vaccination drive waiting for the doses for which the government has already paid to the Indian company.

Of the two million doses for which the government signed a deal with the Serum Institute, the manufacturer of Covishield, just one million doses have arrived so far and the remaining doses are yet to arrive.

Nepal currently has around 600,000 doses in its stock, according to officials.

Reuters reported on Wednesday, quoting two sources, that India has put a temporary hold on all major exports of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India to meet demand at home as infections rise.

“The new decision by the Indian government could affect the supply of vaccines purchased directly,” Dr Shyam Raj Upreti, coordinator of Covid-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee, told the Post. “Supply of one million doses, for which we have already paid, could also be affected by this new decision.”

Nepal government’s plan to procure 5 million doses of vaccines from the Serum Institute has also been in limbo for a while, according to officials.

India’s move of halting exports of vaccines will also affect supplies to the COVAX facility, Reuters reported quoting UNICEF, the programme’s procurement and distributing partner.

As many as 64 lower-income countries, including Nepal, are supposed to get doses from the COVAX facility.

Nepal so far has received 348,000 doses under the COVAX facility.

COVAX has committed to providing 13 million doses of vaccines to Nepal, enough for 20 percent of the total population. Each person needs two doses of vaccine.

“We understand that deliveries of Covid-19 vaccines to lower-income economies participating in the COVAX facility will likely face delays following a setback in securing export licences for further doses of Covid-19 vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India, expected to be shipped in March and April,” UNICEF told Reuters in an email. “COVAX is in talks with the Government of India with a view to ensuring deliveries as quickly as possible.”

Nepal aims to immunise around 20 percent of its 30 population with the vaccines to be provided under the COVAX facility.

Upreti, however, said that the vaccines Nepal is supposed to receive under the COVAX facility may not be halted.

Since children under 14 years won’t be immunised, the government has to immunise 52 percent of the total population on its own or through private companies. A little over 1.7 million people (or 5.7 percent of the total population) have been inoculated until March 15 when the second phase of vaccination concluded.

With no signs of new consignment of vaccines arriving, the government has suspended the vaccination drive for an indefinite period.

Nepal is set to bring 800,000 doses of vaccines developed by Sinopharm Biotech of China on Monday, which the Chinese government is providing under grant assistance.

Sinopharm’s BBIBP-CorV vaccine (CoronaVac) has been granted emergency use approval in Nepal but not even a single dose has “officially” arrived in Nepal, except the 2,000 doses that a Bahraini prince brough on March 15. The issue, however, has been embroiled in controversy.

Dr Roshan Pokhrel, chief specialist at the Health Ministry, said that the government had been expecting the remaining 1 million doses of vaccine from the Serum Institute of India “at the earliest.”

According to Pokhrel, the company had told the Health ministry that it would supply the vaccines at the earliest.

“I just heard about the new decision of the Indian government. This decision could affect the vaccine supply,” Pokhrel told the Post. “We are not in a position to say anything about this right now.”

Kathmandu Post

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