A group of European, Nepali and Bhutanese personalities have sent an open letter to the European Commission, asking it to allow member states to send surplus vaccines directly to Nepal and Bhutan, by-passing delays through COVAX.
EU member states have millions of doses of excess vaccines, but donations or transfers of these surplus doses are severely constrained by the contracts between EU, member states and vaccine manufacturers.
‘We appeal to European Commission to facilitate a mechanism which would allow member states to transfer vaccines bilaterally to other countries or enable member states to target their vaccine contributions multilaterally to the countries where it is most urgently needed,’ the appeal states.
Millions of people in Nepal and Bhutan are in urgent need of Covid-19 vaccines, especially AstraZeneca, in order to vaccinate their citizens with second doses. Nepal needs 1.4 million doses immediately for people above 65 years who got their first doses, and are still waiting for their second jabs because India banned the export of Covishield AZ.
Nepal has not even got an additional 1 million doses it already paid Serum Institute of India for, and needs a further 20 million doses for the rest of its population. Nepal government is buying 4 million doses of VeroCell from SinoPharm in China and the first of the weekly shipments will start arriving on Thursday.
Similarly, Bhutan has inoculated most of its eligible population of 500,000 with Covishield AZ from Serum Institute India, but only with their first doses.
Some European countries like Denmark, Norway and the Czech Republic have excess AZ vaccines which they want to send to Nepal and Bhutan directly, but they are constrained by legal agreements to go through the EU and COVAX.
However, WHO’s COVAX facility has also not been able to dispatch promised vaccines to Nepal, Bhutan and other developing countries because it had sourced it from Serum Institute India. COVAX has only sent 835,000 of the 2.26 million it promised before India stopped its export.
Nepali officials disclosed this week that 1.5 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines from the United States through COVAX would be delivered later this month.
The open letter states: ‘While COVAX is a fair mechanism of vaccine distribution among the low and mid income countries, its prioritisation is not taking into account the receiving country’s actual situation amid Covid-19 pandemic, its specific vaccination needs and its vaccine administration preparedness. Ability to direct at least part of the available supplies to the places where the vaccines are currently most needed would overcome these shortcomings.’
Despite the urgency of second doses, the COVAX mechanism prioritises countries by population and not by the current pandemic situation. The open letter argues that European countries have stockpiles of vaccines that are nearing expiry, and the European Commission could expedite shipments if it facilitated direct transfer of doses from EU member states.
It also says that by denying the requests by Bhutan and Nepal for direct vaccine donations, EU is ‘damaging its international image … and reinforces the EU’s stereotypical image as bureaucratic, inflexible and alienated’.
It says failure to respond to the urgent requests from Nepal would hurt the EU because other vaccine manufacturing countries ‘are successfully using vaccine diplomacy to increase their soft-power’.
Signatories of this open letter are known personalities from EU countries, Nepal and Bhutan. This includes members of European Parliament Tomáš Zdechovský and Kateřina Konečná, academics Françoise Pommaret and Karma Phuntsho, former under secretary general of the United Nations Kul Chandra Gautam from Nepal, artists, mountaineers, activists, public health workers and others.
Other prominent Nepalis include writers Manjushree Thapa and Budhhisagar, as well as former Miss Nepals Malvika Subba and Srinkhala Khatiwoda.
The open letter idea was initiated by a group of Czechs with close ties with the Himalaya who sent an earlier open letter to the Czech Government calling on it to gift its surplus vaccines to Nepal and Bhutan.
“In subsequent unofficial consultations, it became clear, that Czech Government is not at a liberty to donate or sell its excess doses of AstraZeneca vaccine due to the constraints of the contract between EU, Czechs and the vaccine manufacturer,” explained photographer Michal Thoma, one of those behind the initiative. “It also became apparent that the same situation applies for other EU countries which purchased vaccines through the EU vaccine procurement mechanism.”
So Thoma teamed up with Věra Exnerová, the Nepal Country Director of humanitarian organisation People in Need, mountaineer Jan Tráva and filmmaker Petr Horký to write to the European Commission with other Nepalis and Bhutanese.
On 1 July, Denmark announced that it would donate 250,000 vaccines to Bhutan. However, it is understood that these grants still need to be facilitated by the EU.
Says Thoma: “The European Commission should stand up to its responsibility so that the EU can fight the pandemic not only within its borders but everywhere else around the world.”
Those interested can sign the petition at https://www.petitions.net/vaccines_to_himalayas.
Full Text of the Open Letter:
Ms Ursula von der Leyen
President of the European Commission
Open Letter to the European Commission to facilitate direct transfers of excess Covid-19 vaccines from EU member states to the countries with most urgent needs, namely Nepal and Bhutan
Dear Commission President von der Leyen,
We would like to bring to your attention the pressing issue of excess vaccines which were purchased by the member states through the centralized EU vaccine acquisition mechanism. Many of these vaccines, such as Vaxzervia produced by AstraZeneca, are not being administered or their use in most EU member states is substantially restricted. As a result, millions of doses are now idly awaiting other allocation.
Many foreign governments, namely Bhutan and Nepal, asked for donation or purchase of excess vaccines from EU member states. Many public initiatives in EU member states also appealed to their respective governments to facilitate transfer of excess vaccines to Nepal and Bhutan or other mid and low income countries.
However, EU member states are not in liberty to donate the surplus vaccines directly due to the legal constraints of the contracts between vaccine manufacturers, member states and EU.
We, an informal group of people with close relationship to the Himalayas, namely Bhutan and Nepal, are nonetheless convinced that these countries, currently affected by regional outbreak of Delta variant, would be best helped by direct vaccine donations. Nepal and Bhutan urgently need almost two millions doses of AstraZeneca vaccine in order to administer second rounds to its citizens. Unfortunately, it has been reported by the media that WHO’s COVAX facility asked Nepal and Bhutan to request doses from other vaccine manufacturers. This may cause delays and complications for rapid response to fight against Covid-19 pandemic in these countries.
We thus appeal to European Commission to facilitate a mechanism which would allow member states to transfer vaccines bilaterally to other countries or enable member states to target their vaccine contributions multilaterally to the countries where it is most urgently needed.
The reasons for above are as follows:
- While COVAX is a fair mechanism of vaccine distribution among the low and mid income countries, its prioritization is not taking into account the receiving country’s actual situation amid Covid-19 pandemic, its specific vaccination needs and its vaccine administration preparedness. Ability to direct at least part of the available
Prague, 6th July 2021
supplies to the places where the vaccines are currently most needed would
overcome these shortcomings.
2. By denying the foreign government requests for direct vaccine donations, EU
member countries and the EU itself is damaging its international image. At the same time, other vaccine manufacturing countries are successfully using vaccine diplomacy to increase their soft-power and will certainly yield from that in the future.
- Inability to react positively to the appeals of member states’ citizens to donate vaccines to countries in urgent need reinforces the EU’s stereotypical image as bureaucratic, inflexible and alienated. Allowing member states and its people to decide on how to distribute the excess of vaccines would counteract such feelings among EU citizens.
- The USA just recently decided to distribute its excess vaccines partly through COVAX and partly bilaterally according to US foreign policy prioritization. We believe that this is an example to follow.
On top of that, many EU member states will soon have vast caches of soon to expire vaccines for which there will be no recipients among the EU citizens. In such a case, European Commission should pave the way for the member states for the swift transfers of such expiring doses to the third countries which are ready to receive and administer such supplies in the short time.
We would like to request you to consider the above points thoroughly. We have full faith and hope in the European Commission’s ability to make the right decisions that would be taking into account a global responsibility of the EU as well as the international relations priorities and wishes of EU citizens.
Michal Thoma, photographer and writer, Czechia
Věra Exnerová, Nepal director of the humanitarian organisation People in Need, Czechia
Jan Tráva, mountaineer, Czechia
Petr Horký, filmmaker, Czechia
Kunda Dixit, editor and publisher of Nepali Times, Nepal
Françoise Pommaret, ethnohistorian and Tibetologist, France & Bhutan
Karma Phuntsho, Loden Foundation, Bhutan and Cambridge University, UK
Stanislav Tomka, entrepreneur, Slovakia
Gabriel Točka, Namasté, Society for Nepal-Slovakia Friendship, Slovakia
Zdeňka Karky, former Czech honorary consul in Nepal, Czechia
Kul Chandra Gautam, former deputy executive director of UNICEF, Nepal
Manjushree Thapa, essayist, fiction writer, translator and editor, Nepal & Canada
Tomáš Zdechovský, Member of European Parliament, Czechia
Buddhisagar, writer, poet, columnist, author of Karnali Blues and Firfire, Nepal
Saurav Dhakal, curator, Story Cycle, Nepal
Malvika Subba and Shrinkhala Khatiwoda, both Miss Nepal, Nepal
Buddha Basnyat, Himalayan Rescue Association and Mountain Medicine Society of Nepal
Kateřina Konečná, Member of European Parliament, Czechia
Šimon Pánek, director of the humanitarian organization People in Need, Czechia