UNICEF urges G7 to dispatch vaccines

All photos: UNICEF NEPAL

UNICEF has made an urgent appeal ahead of a G7 summit next month to ask developed countries to release some of their vaccine stockpiles to fight the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping the Subcontinent.

UNICEF with WHO are sponsors of the COVAX Facility that had promised to procure vaccines for developing countries so that they could inoculate at least 20% of their populations. Nepal has only received 348,000 out of the promised 2.248 million doses in March. 

By the end of this week, the global Covid vaccine equity scheme will have been able to deliver only 65 million of the 170 million doses it was supposed to ship out by now. By the time G7 leaders gather in the UK next month, and as a deadly new surge devastated India and Nepal, the shortfall will near 190 million doses.

"We have issued repeated warnings of the risks of letting down our guard and leaving low and middle income countries without equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics," UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a strongly-worded statement issued in New York on Monday.

She added: "While the situation in India is tragic, it is not unique. Cases are exploding and health systems are struggling in countries near – like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives – and far, like Argentina and Brazil. The cost for children and families will be incalculable."

On Monday, Nepal recorded a spike in new cases after a slight dip over the weekend with 9,247 new infections, 3,098 of them in Kathmandu Valley. Test positivity rate climbed back to 41.8%. Total fatalities in the last 24 hours also saw a notable increase at 214.

There were 5,767 recoveries while 6,970 individuals are undergoing treatment in various hospitals across the country. Of them, 1,259 are in ICU and 400 in ventilators support.

Nepal restarted its vaccination drive from 16 May for some 300,000 people in the age group 18-59 years who received their first dose of the Chinese VeroCell vaccine last month.

So far less than 400,000 of Nepal’s 30 million population have been inoculated with both doses while the fate of 1.3 million who received the first shot of Covishield vaccine remains uncertain because of the ban on exports of the AstraZeneca covishield vaccine by India.

Nepal has run out of AstraZeneca Covishield stock, and the COVAX initiative has not been able to deliver after its first consignment of 348,000 doses of the Covishield jab in March (pictured above).

The clearest pathway out of this pandemic is a global, equitable distribution of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics. But COVAX is undersupplied due to limited production capacity, particularly because of the surge in India, which is a global hub for vaccine production.

Vaccine nationalism and lack of funding have also played a part in delaying the roll-out. The longer the virus continues to spread unchecked, the higher the risk of more deadly or contagious variants emerging. 

New data analysis provided by Airfinity, the life sciences research facility, and commissioned by the UK National Committee for UNICEF, indicates that G7 nations and ‘Team Europe’ group of European Union Member States could donate around 153 million vaccine doses if they shared just 20% of their available supply over June, July and August.

Critically, they could do so while still meeting their commitments to vaccinate their own populations and buttress vulnerable countries against becoming the next global hotspot while doing so, warns Fore in her statement, adding that supporting the expansion of vaccine manufacturing capacity will help the global vaccinate race.

She says: "These measures are critical, but they won’t change anything overnight. Sharing immediately available excess doses is a minimum, essential and emergency stop-gap measure, and it is needed right now."

UNICEF helped the Nepal government on Monday to fly in 155,000 Covid-19 antigen test kits to Kathmandu. The kits will be used for quick testing to gauge community spread and at the Indian border.