Nepal has sought India's help to procure COVID-19 vaccines for around 20 per cent of its population, as the Himalayan nation ramps up its efforts to contain the deadly virus that has killed more than 1,800 people and infected over 260,000 others, a media report said on Wednesday. The Nepal government has written to the Indian government, requesting for procurement of COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate around 20 per cent of the Nepali population, the Kathmandu Post reported.
Nepal will pay for the vaccines it sources through India, the paper added. At least two vaccine candidates including Oxford's AstraZeneca and domestically developed candidate Bharat Biotech's vaccine are in the final stages of a third phase trial in India.
"To get the vaccines at the earliest, the government has requested the Indian government to buy vaccines for 20 per cent Nepalis, the paper said, quoting a Health Ministry official. Nepal is also pursuing vaccines made in other countries.
Around 15 vaccine candidates of different countries and companies are in third phase trials. The government has written letters to most of the countries for help and to the individual companies to procure the vaccines, said Dr Shyam Raj Upreti, coordinator of Nepal's COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee. Last month, the government sent diplomatic notes to India, China, Russia, the UK and the US, countries whose vaccines against the coronavirus have either completed the third phase trials or are near their completion, for early availability in Nepal, the report said.
Last month, India assured the people of Nepal that once it rolls out a vaccine against COVID-19, meeting their requirement will be a priority for New Delhi. "I would like to assure the people of Nepal that once a vaccine is rolled out, meeting Nepal's requirement would be a priority for us," Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said in Kathmandu during his visit to Nepal.
The government has estimated that vaccinating 52 per cent of the population would cost Rs 48 billion, it said. Of Nepal's total population, those below 15 will not be vaccinated as vaccines being trialled have not been tested on people below this age. The World Health Organization has asked the government to prepare for the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines under COVAX programmes in the second trimester of 2021, Upreti said.
Nepal is stepping up efforts for vaccine procurement. Last month, President Bidya Devi Bhandari endorsed an ordinance to amend the Drug Act (1978) to facilitate the use of emergency medicines and vaccines for COVID-19 that have been tested and approved in other countries.
Health workers who are at high risk of getting infected and passing the infection are the first priority. If health workers get infected health services will be affected. Therefore all health workers serving either in state-run health facilities or in private centres are the first priority, said Dr Jhalak Sharma from the Family Welfare Division under the Department of Health Services. Supporting staffdrivers, cleaning staff of health facilities, security personnel deployed on the front line and female community health volunteers are also among the first priority, the report said.
People above 55 years old are the second priority and those in the 40 t0 54 years range are the third priority, Sharma said, adding people between 15 and 40 years of age are the last priority. Nepal on Wednesday reported 511 new cases of coronavirus, taking the nationwide infection count to 260,059. Seven more people died from the disease, pushing the death toll to 1,847, the health ministry said.