Vaccine Politics: Nepal and its neighbors

Vaccine Politics in Nepal

Both neighbors of Nepal, India and China, have donated generously to expedite the vaccination process in the country, while Nepal also seeks to buy more vaccines from India, such dependency means more politics.

Nepal’s vaccination drive that started in early January this year has already seen a few hiccups mostly due to the shortage and the heavy dependency on its rival neighbors, India and China.
At the moment, the vaccination drive is delivering to the beneficiaries in the second priority phase. The beneficiaries include people aged above 55 and people of 40-54 age who have chronic health issues or comorbidities.
On the other hand, the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu has released a statement wherein it states, “the Chinese Embassy in Nepal will provide facilitation to visa applicants who have been fully vaccinated China-made COVID-19 vaccines,” for people who are willing to go to China as students, visitors or for work.
Milind Gyawali,21, a student at the Zheijiang University of Science and Technology, said that the vaccination process was very quick for him as he was a student at a Chinese university and the Chinese government was prioritizing students to get vaccinated. “I received the vaccine on the first day of distribution,” he said.
China expediting the vaccination process for the ones that are willing to go to China increases the appeal of the vaccine particularly to the young people in Nepal who see this as an easy escape from the country. Like Anisha Bhandari, 22, says, “I got the Chinese vaccine and applied to a university in China because I cannot wait until everything goes back to normal and lose another year to the pandemic.

On the contrary, Prasant Neupane, 26, a student of Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, was able to get the AstraZeneca Oxford Vaccine. Neupane says, “Wherever you go, everyone talks about the vaccine at the moment.” “People are always comparing which vaccine is from where, their efficiency, and which country’s vaccine can be trusted,” he added.

Doctors explain how vaccination is important

Vaccination Drive and Diplomacy in Nepal

According to the Our World in Statistics data, 1.6 million out of the more than 29 million people in Nepal have been vaccinated so far. The efforts of the government to vaccinate the citizens started when the Ministry of Health and Population sent diplomatic notes through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to five countries: The USA, The UK, Russia, China, and India. 

Due to the fact that all the vaccine candidates were not adequate for Nepal due to the lack of proper storage facilities in Nepal. During the time when Pfizer and Biontech, Moderna, Sputnik V were looking like a farfetched dream for Nepal, the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was the only viable option. As it required no special storage holdings and can be stored, transported, and handled at the standard refrigeration conditions, it came to be the most suitable choice for Nepal.
Produced by the Serum Institute of India, the largest human vaccine manufacturer in the world, the vaccine was feasible to be stored and to be brought into the country through India. Therefore on 21 January, the Government of India, in coordination with the Embassy of India, Kathmandu approved the aid of 1 million doses of Covishield vaccine to Nepal.

Similarly, in late March 2021, 800,000 vaccines of the state-owned Sinopharm vaccines from China arrived in Kathmandu to further expedite the vaccination drive.
Now, the second phase of the vaccination drive has been carried out with the Chinese vaccine received in donation while the first phase was carried out with the one million vaccines received as donations from India. However, the vaccine shortage in India has led to a bump in the accelerating vaccination drive because one million doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine that Nepal is buying from India is in limbo at the moment.

The tale of dependency: Different stories same plot

It all comes down to the same thing for Nepal in terms of dependency as it is again bound to limit its vaccine diplomacy to China and India. Due to the lack of storage facility and logistics for transportation and handling of other vaccines, Nepal has the option to only acquire vaccines from India and China. 

While China has barred Indian people from entering China since last November, now those willing to take the Chinese vaccines -which are not available in India- will be facilitated to go to China.
China’s vaccine diplomacy along with Nepal’s convenience and need for Indian vaccine could again put the landlocked country in an awkward position. Both the countries, India and China, have extended support through generous donations of vaccines to further extend their influence in poorer countries like Nepal. It can be a case of misfortune for Nepal as it has had a long-standing history of being sandwiched between China-India rivalry along with both countries meddling in Nepal’s internal politics.