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First consignment of Sinopharm’s Vero Cell vaccines bought from China arrives in Kathmandu

The first consignment of Vero Cell COVID-19 vaccines purchased by the government from China, arrived in Kathmandu on Friday.

Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal Spokesperson Raj Kumar Chhetri informed that a Nepal Airlines wide-body aircraft that had flown to Beijing to bring the vaccines on Thursday, landed at Tribhuvan International Airport at 6:16 am today.

The first consignment brought in 800,000 doses of the vaccine.

Flights are also scheduled for July 15 and July 22, each of which is expected to bring 1 million doses, according to Health Ministry officials.

The government has purchased 4 million doses of vaccines from China under a non-disclosure agreement with an affiliate of the state-backed pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm.

China, last month, had provided 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine that was used to inoculate those between the ages of 6o and 64 in Kathmandu Valley and those between 62 and 64 outside the Valley.

Source: Kathmandu Post

“Don’t wait for free jabs, pay to secure them, World Bank tells Nepal”

As Nepal scrambles to secure vaccines against COVID-19, the World Bank, a major donor which has committed funds to buy the jabs, has said the country must not wait for free vaccines and order them by paying.

Nepal should not wait for free vaccines and should immediately reserve them by paying, Faris Hadad-Zervos, World Bank’s country director for Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, told Nepali journalists during a virtual meeting on Thursday.

He urged Nepal to immediately sign up for COVAX’s second window under which countries can purchase vaccines.

According to data provided by the Ministry of Health and Population on Thursday, 2.61 million Nepalis have got their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and of them just 933,868 have received both doses.

Only around 3 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated so far.

Nepal has so far received 1 million doses of Covishield, the AstraZeneca type vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, and 1.8 million doses of Vero Cell, developed and manufactured by China’s Sinopharm, under grant assistance.

Besides that, the Serum Institute supplied 1 million doses of Covishield for which Nepal paid. COVAX, the international vaccine sharing scheme backed by the United Nations, had also supplied 348,000 doses of Covishield.

After the supplies dried up, the government then reached out to various countries to secure additional doses, but given the supply chain constraints, some private firms, including American companies, expressed their inability to sell the jabs before 2022.

Nepal, however, has managed to secure 4 million doses of Vero Cell from Sinopharm, a Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical company, under a non-disclosure agreement, which bars the buyer from disclosing the price.

Faris told reporters on Thursday that money should not be an issue for Nepal to buy the jabs.

“The World Bank has provided $100 million for vaccine procurement,” said Faris. “Another $160 million has been set aside by the Asian Development Bank for Nepal.

From these two sources, according to him, Nepal will have $260 million to procure vaccines.

Nepal needs to inoculate 72 percent of its 30 million population, or 22 million people, for which it will need 44 million doses of two-shot vaccine. The UN-backed COVAX had committed to providing 13 million doses, enough to inoculate around 20 percent of the population.

An additional 348,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine and around 1.5 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the only single-shot jab, are expected to be supplied to Nepal under the COVAX facility within July.

But that won’t be enough, and Nepal needs to work on a war footing to secure more doses, before another wave hits the country.

Nepal also needs the AstraZeneca vaccine doses immediately to give booster doses to the 1.4 million people who took their first shots in the second week of March.

Faris said that the Nepal government has taken a good move to procure vaccines from China, but it will not meet the demand.

Responding to journalists’ question whether Nepal can procure vaccines under the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with the aid supported by the development partners, Faris said that every country has signed such deals.

“NDA is not a restriction. Nepal should ensure that there is transparency in the procurement process,” said Faris.

The multilateral funding agency has said that Nepal can procure any vaccine which is approved by the World Health Organisation.

The COVAX facility initially said that 1.9 million doses of its total commitment would arrive in Nepal by March. But after India faced a devastating second wave, COVAX was hit hard, as it was banking on the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by volume.

“It’s not easy to get the vaccine. We assume that in the next six months, there will be a huge demand for vaccines. So Nepal needs proper planning,” said Faris.

“Today all roads lead to vaccines because COVID-19 is not in our control.”

According to Faris, Nepal must ensure that it gets as many doses of vaccine during the second window of the COVAX facility, which will be available from next month.

The World Bank said that 2020 was a devastating year, not only for Nepal but the whole world.

Nepal’s economy faced headwinds, technically recording an economic recession for the first time in almost 40 years with the country witnessing negative growth rates for two consecutive quarters because of the COVID-19 pandemic-induced supply and demand shock on the economy.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, in the fourth quarter of the last fiscal year 2019-20, the country’s economic growth rate, or output of the gross domestic product, plunged 15.4 percent compared to the same period in 2018-19, which resulted in a year-on-year negative growth rate of 2.1 percent.

This was the first annual negative growth rate since 1982-1983 when Nepal’s economic growth rate plunged -2.97 percent, according to the World Bank.

This fiscal year 2020-21, ending mid-July, the World Bank has projected Nepal to grow at the rate of 2.7 percent and 3.9 percent in the fiscal year 2021-22.

But then Nepal faced the second wave of the pandemic in April and most of the country was under lockdown for almost two months from April 29. Restrictions are still in place.

Source: Sangam Prasain – Kathmandu Post