The 1.5 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines by the United States under the global COVAX facility has arrived in Kathmandu via a Qatar Airways flight on Monday morning. With this, the US has now become the largest single-country donor of Covid assistance to Nepal.
US ambassador Randy Berry and Health Minister Krishna Gopal Shrestha were at the airport to receive the consignment, a total of 1,534,850 doses. A formal handover took place later at Prime Minister K P Oli’s residence in Baluwatar.
“These vaccines will not only save lives and help Nepal emerge from this pandemic, but they will also help to recover economic losses and regain the opportunity to safely visit with our friends, families, and neighbours,” said Berry speaking at the arrival ceremony.
The Health Ministry is considering inoculating migrant workers waiting to leave for their jobs at the destination countries with the single-shot jab given that they can’t return or wait for the second dose. A preliminary report also suggests that people in the 50-54 age group will receive the shots. There has been no official confirmation yet.
It is yet unclear if the J&J vaccine is part of the 2,000,000 allocated by the COVAX for 20% of Nepal’s population. The World Health Organisation’s COVAX initiative has so far delivered 348,000 doses of the Covishield AstraZeneca vaccines to the country and is sending its next consignment to Kathmandu by August.
The 1.5 million J&J doses are a part of the 7 million pledged by President Joe Biden to South Asian countries last month, of the 1 billion doses from the G-7 promised at a summit in the UK last month.
The Biden Administration has already shipped 1.5 million doses of the Moderna shots to Pakistan and the first consignment of the 2.5 million it set aside for Bangladesh. The United States also announced 500,000 doses of Moderna jabs to Bhutan.
According to the US embassy, since the beginning of the pandemic, the United States has delivered nearly $70 million for Covid-19 assistance to Nepal. This includes $55 million mobilised by USAID for oxygen cylinders, breathing devices, Covid-19 testing, contact tracing, treatment, personal protective equipment, and infection prevention.
Similarly, the United States Department of Defense has provided over $7.3 million for isolation and disaster camps, oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators, and non-invasive breathing and oxygen therapy devices, telemedicine equipment, handwashing stations, and medical equipment and gear for health clinics and health care workers.
The United States has also pledged $4 billion to support COVAX with the purchase and delivery of Covid-19 vaccines to 92 low- and middle-income countries.