KATHMANDU, NOVEMBER 21
Businesspersons involved in the import of vaccines say the government must reach deals with COVID-19 vaccine producing countries and inform what quantities of vaccines it wants to import from those companies or else, the country might not get the vaccines on time.
A drug supplier who did not want to be quoted said the government should have already signed deals with vaccine producers by now to secure timely supply of vaccines as that would enable suppliers to open LC and make payments to the companies in advance.
“If the government fails to do what is required now, we might not get vaccines in February or March when other countries around the world will get COVID-19 vaccines. It will not serve our purpose if we get COVID-19 vaccines only after six months or a year,” the source added.
He said the government had made positive efforts recently to ensure supply of vaccines by forming a committee and amending the Drugs Act, but those efforts were not enough.
“We have seen how delay in decision affected the supply of Remdesivir medicine in the past. We got this medicine only after three months forcing people to buy in the black market.
Some people paid up to Rs 50,000 for this drug when it could be available for Rs 3,000 in the regular market,” the source added.
Health Adviser to Minister of Health and Population Dr Khem Bahadur Karki told THT that a committee formed by the government recently comprising secretaries of line ministries to ensure supply of COVID-19 vaccines had sent diplomatic notes to countries where COVID-19 vaccines were in the last phase of trial.
He said Nepal expected supply of 20 per cent of COVID-19 vaccines from COVAX, which was launched by WHO, European Union and France in April. Karki said for the remaining 80 per cent vaccines, the government aimed to generate internal and external resources, including assistance from donor countries and international agencies.
He said some vaccines being produced in foreign countries should be stored at -20 degree Celsius and other vaccines at -70 degree Celsius. This will prove a very challenging task for Nepal where there are not many facilities that can store such vaccines.
“We will somehow manage to store vaccines that need to be kept at -70 degree Celsius in Kathmandu, but not in other places. So the government wants to enter into deals with multiple manufactures whose vaccines can be stored at temperatures ranging from 2 to 8 degree Celsius,” Karki said and added that in places outside Kathmandu, vaccines could be stored at temperatures ranging from 2 to 8 degree Celsius.
He said the government was working on a plan to import vaccines in February and March as almost all the vaccines were expected to be available in the market in January.
Karki said the government would have to spend around Rs 50 billion for 80 per cent of the country’s population.
Chief of Child Health and Vaccine Department at the Department of Health Dr Jhalak Gautam said that Nepal would get 20 per cent vaccines at the time when other developing countries would get vaccines under the COVAX arrangement.
“This mechanism was created by the global community keeping in mind the problems poor countries could face when COVID-19 vaccines would be available in the market.
Vaccine producing countries will certainly try to give priority to their own countries but since COVAX will get two billion doses of vaccines at the same time when vaccine producing countries immunise their population, I think CO- VAX will make 20 per cent vaccines available to countries like ours,” Gautam said.
He said the new ordinance that amended provisions of Drugs Act would allow the Department of Drug Administration to register new vaccines in Nepal even before those vaccines were cleared by WHO, if those vaccines were registered and used in vaccine producing countries.
Gautam said the government was trying its best to ensure timely supply of COV- ID-19 vaccines. Government authorities have said that frontline health workers and people over the age of 55 will be given priority when COVID-19 vaccines are available in Nepal.
A version of this article appears in print on November 22, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.