EDITORIAL: Vaccines arrive

We need to procure more vaccines using our own resources, either at the G2G level or directly from vaccine-producing firm(s)

India-gifted one million doses of COVID vaccines, developed by Oxford University/AstraZeneca and manufactured by Pune-based Serum Institute of India, arrived in Nepal on a special flight from New Delhi the other day, five days after the southern neighbour started vaccinating its 300 million people under the first phase.

Nepal is one of the few countries in South Asia to receive the vaccines, which is said to be around 94.5 per cent effective as per the results of the third phase of their trial. Minister of Health and Population Hridayesh Tripathi, during a joint press conference with Indian Ambassador to Nepal, Vinay Mohan Kwatra, in the capital yesterday said the vaccines would be dispatched to all the districts within five days. Tripathi said the India-donated vaccines would be first given to the frontline health workers, doctors, ambulance drivers and security personnel. He also said the Nepal government had already completed all legal, financial and administrative arrangements for importing and administering the vaccines to the people who need them the most. The government has a plan to inoculate around 70 per cent of the total population to control the spread of the coronavirus that has already claimed the lives of 1,975 people so far.

Kwatra said COVID vaccine cooperation was one of the important aspects of discussion between Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali and his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar.

During Gyawali’s visit to New Delhi on January 14, he held extensive discussions with Jaishankar about the possibility of quick delivery of the vaccines to Nepal so that the latter could also start vaccinating its people at the earliest. Kwatra said the vaccine cooperation between India and Nepal and the arrival of Indian vaccines showed that India cared for the people, friendly countries and its neighbours. Likewise, Indian PM Narendra Modi had earlier said India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity would be used for the benefit of all humanity.

Now the onus lies on the Nepal government to effectively roll out the vaccines to its people across the country without any further delay. Although the concerned ministry has claimed that it has made all the preparations to vaccinate the people, it has just completed giving training to the higher-level officials about the methods and protocols of vaccination. It has collected details of the health workers, nurses and female community health volunteers from all the health posts. There are more than 350,000 health workers and female community health volunteers across the country. It is unclear how long it will take to train them, who will then be giving the vaccines to the general people. The ministry has also not published any timeline when it will procure the required quantity of vaccines and from where. The vaccines donated by India meet only a small fraction of Nepal’s need. We need to procure more vaccines using our own resources, either at government-to- government level or directly from the vaccine-producing firm(s), if we are to inoculate around 70 per cent of the population, that too, within a couple of months.

If we are able to vaccinate the target population within a set deadline, we will be able to bring the virus under control and give a boost to the national economy.

Drug bust

In a major anti-drug operation conducted by the Narcotic Control Bureau, nine drug peddlers of an organised racket have been arrested from different parts of the Kathmandu Valley in the last 10 days.

However, this single sting operation will do little to curb the illegal drug trade unless all other drug rackets operating in the country are busted. At a time when the youths are staying idle due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the political situation in the country is fluid, drug pushers might be finding them easy targets.

Possession of hard drugs such as hashish, heroin, opium and cocaine could carry the life sentence. Still youths are willing to take the risk means they are either desperate for money or that they think they can get away with a light sentence due to connections with the powers that be. Thus, making arrests of small drug pushers will not bring down the problem of drug abuse in the country. Since the drug trade, like any other business, operates on demand and supply, efforts must be made to keep the youths away from drugs through whatever means it takes, such as raising awareness, helping them cope with peer and life pressures, and intensifying surveillance by the police.