Renewed call on UK to rush vaccines to Nepal

Actor Michael Palin and Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

British actor Michael Palin and Amnesty International on Wednesday called on the UK government to redistribute surplus Covid-19 vaccines to those most at risk in Nepal and other countries.

In Nepal, recovery from a deadly second wave in May has stalled with cases and fatalities rising again after the government relaxed lockdown rules last month, even while only less than 4% of the population was fully vaccinated.

In addition, more than 1.4 million Nepalis above 65 who received their first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine in March and were due their second jab in early June, are still waiting for their jabs. 

“Having travelled in Nepal and met so many of their people, I am devastated that more than a million lives in Nepal are at risk," said British actor Michael Palin. "I am calling on the UK government to share its vaccine supply immediately with Nepal and other countries where those most at-risk have yet to have access to Covid-19 vaccines.”

Palin joined the Amnesty International call on the international community, particularly wealthier countries such as the UK, to urgently share unused vaccine doses and take other concrete measures to seriously tackle global vaccine inequality.

Expected supplies for the second dose did not reach Nepal due to India's ban on export of Covishield, and the global shortage of vaccines. Following an appeal to the international community, Japan has committed to fill this gap. 

The UK government on Thursday announced 9 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to the global COVAX facility to be donated starting this week. The first countries to receive the consignment are Indonesia (600,000 doses), Kenya (817,000) and Jamaica (300,000). It is not yet known if Nepal is on the list.

But for now, vaccine or no vaccine, mask and separation is the best protection. 

Globally more than four million lives have now been lost, healthcare systems continue to crack under the pressure, and the light at the end of the tunnel is still out of sight for most of the world, especially where there is an acute shortage of vaccines.

Said Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International: “The UK has already fully immunised more than 50% of its population in roughly six months. In contrast, Nepal has only been able to fully vaccinate 3.97% of its population and has not received deliveries as scheduled amid another deadly wave of infections."

She added: "These figures paint a stark picture of unforgivable inequality. Wealthy nations cannot simply keep turning a blind eye, as their neighbour’s house burns down. We aren’t talking in abstracts – we are talking about people’s rights to life."

She said that Japan's commitment to send 1.6million doses to Nepal within the next few weeks, while a welcome move, was "sadly only a band-aid, not a global solution".

Callamard added: "Sooner rather than later, leaders must realise that viruses don’t care about borders. We need bolder action from the international community, particularly wealthier states like the UK, the European Union, Canada and the United States who are sitting on unused doses, much of which may expire at any moment."

Nepal is one of many countries currently facing acute vaccine shortages. Palin had earlier joined leading figuresincluding Gurkha activist Joanna Lumley, mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington, Oxford vaccine researcher Andrew Pollard and others to send lifesaving oxygen equipment and medical supplies to Nepal during the peak in May when 250 Nepalis were dying every day from Covid-19.

The daily death rate in Nepal had come down to 15, but rose again on Friday to 33, with nearly 4,000 new confirmed cases in 24 hours. The active cases nationwide are now nearly 30,000 again with the lifting of the lockdown. 

On Tuesday, the health ministry in Kathmandu ordered all provincial hospitals to start stockpiling at least 1,000 cylinders of oxygen to prepare for what might be a second peak in the second wave.

Amnesty International quoted experts as saying that at the current pace of vaccinations, it will take 57 years for all countries to be fully vaccinated and the latest data shows that 85% of vaccine doses have been administered in richer countries, with only 0.3% in low-income countries. 

Countries such as the UK, which ordered enough doses to vaccinate its whole population three times over, must do their part to resolve global vaccine inequality now, Amnesty added.