The United States, the EU, Australia, China, Singapore are all flying in emergency supplies to help Nepal battle a fierce Covid-19 second wave, but noticeably lacking are much needed vaccines.
It has to be said that the outside world seems to care more about Nepal than the country’s own leaders, who have been squabbling for power for the past year, and their minds now diverted to controversial early elections in November. The government’s vaccine diplomacy has so far failed to convince India, the US or Europe to rush jabs.
Activists and public health experts say even though Nepal’s friends abroad have been generous with relief, the country is not getting the urgent help it needs to vaccinate 1.4 million people with their second dose, and then the remaining population.
Nepalis took to cybresphere to thank the United States and Europe for announcing help with oxygen concentrators and PPEs this week, but said what Nepal really needs is vaccines after India banned the export of its AstraZeneca Covishield vaccines.
Responding to a USAID post about emergency medical supplies to Nepal, dental surgeon Neil Pande who has been trying to mobilise help, tweeted: ‘Thank you for your generosity. What we need the most is vaccines. It will save many from suffering. Please help. 1.3 million 65+ are waiting for the second dose of Astra Zeneca.’
Another user Prabhat Shrestha wrote, ‘Please help with vaccine. Only vaccines can save us from this disaster. Thank you.’ Ra Vee Shah commented, ‘Hope this aid contains enough vaccines to continue vaccination drive.’
Nepal will have fully inoculated 700,000 of its 30 million population next week, after its ongoing Chinese VeroCell vaccination drive comes to an end. But there are no more jabs left for 1.3 million people waiting for their second dose of AstraZeneca Covishield.
Nepal ran out of its stock after India banned vaccine exports, and the COVAX Facility could not supply its remaining 1.8 million vaccines because of the global supply bottleneck. There was a lengthy debate in the UK House of Lords about supplying the vaccines to Nepal, but no firm commitments were made.
Activists and pressure groups have been urging the Biden administration to immediately rush some of its 80 million AstraZeneca doses to Nepal. Yuba Raj Khatiwada, Nepal’s ambassador in Washington said this week that efforts were underway to send 3-5 million AstraZeneca vaccines from the US stockpile to Nepal.