EU to share 200 million vaccines by 2021


The European Union has renewed its committment to sharing more than 200 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines with low and middle-income nations, including Nepal, by the end of 2021.

The doses will be delivered mainly through the COVAX initiative, which has so far provided 122 million doses to 136 countries. This is far less than the quantity originally promised because of supply chain issues and India’s ban on export of its AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine.

“Team Europe takes its responsibility in helping the world fight the virus, everywhere. Vaccination is key – that's why it is essential to ensure access to Covid-19 vaccines to countries worldwide,” said EU President Ursula von der Leyen at this week’s Global Health Summit in Rome.

In parallel, Europe is providing better access to vaccines, medicines and health technologies in Africa, in part by helping create the right conditions for local vaccine manufacturing in Africa.

The initiative will be backed by a €1 billion grant from the EU, and European development finance institutions such as the European Investment Bank (EIB).

On 9 July, Team Europe agreed to support large-scale investment in vaccine production by the Institut Pasteur in Dakar. The new plant will reduce Africa's 99% dependence on vaccine imports and strengthen future pandemic resilience in the continent.

The European Union is one of the biggest donors of COVAX and has contributed at least €2.47 billion to the initiative, which had committed to providing free vaccines for 20% of Nepal’s population.

It sent its first consignment to Kathmandu back in March with 348,000 doses of AstraZeneca Covishield manufactured by Serum Institute of India. But owing to a global manufacturing bottleneck and the export ban in India on vaccines, it was unable to deliver any more doses till recently.

Even as Nepal was in the grip of the devastating second wave in May-June when there were close to 10,000 new cases daily and up to 250 fatalities a day, there was a complete stop to vaccinations.

Nearly 1.4 million Nepalis above 65 are still waiting for their second doses of Covishield, which they may now get with a grant of 1.6 million doses of AstraZeneca from Japan.

In early July, the Americans flew over 1.5 doses of single-shot Johnson & Johnson to Kathmandu under COVAX, which is sending another 350,000 doses by August.

At present VeroCell and J&J vaccination drives are running in parallel across Nepal and the vaccine supply chain is less constrained.

But the decline in the number of new infections and deaths has now stalled. Public health experts have warned of a third wave and there are threats of newer, more virulent variants as long as a major chunk of the population remains unvaccinated.

Covid mortality rose by 50% this week, and urban centres in Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Chitwan, Kaski and Jhapa have recorded the most new cases.

On Friday, there were a total of 2,977 new cases across the country, taking the total active infections to 28,518. There were 18 fatalities in the last 24 hours and 1,678 recoveries. So far, 9,679 people have succumbed to Covid-19 in Nepal since the outbreak in January 2020.

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