• Monday, Jul 26, 2021
  • Last Update : 09:20 am

South Asian nations turn to China, Russia for vaccine help

  • Published at 08:23 pm June 9th, 2021
South Asia Vaccine Sri Lanka
A health worker inoculates a pregnant woman with a dose of the Chinese-made Sinopharm Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine in Colombo on June 9, 2021 AFP

India has not said when vaccine exports might resume

Sri Lanka began injecting pregnant women with a Chinese coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday and Nepal resumed inoculations with a China-made jab as India's neighbours turn to Beijing and Moscow for help with supplies.

Nepal halted inoculations at the end of May after its stock of AstraZeneca shots and Chinese Sinopharm jabs ran short.

The program resumed on Tuesday after a million more Sinopharm doses arrived from China, the only country that has so far responded to its appeals for help.

India had previously supplied Nepal with the AstraZeneca vaccine from its manufacturer Serum Institute but in March froze vaccine exports as infections soared domestically.

"Nepal has sent requests to many countries including both neighbours, US, Russia and other countries but no additional vaccine has arrived yet," health ministry official Samir Kumar Adhikari told AFP.

Barely 2% of the country's people are fully vaccinated. Around 1.3 million people received one AstraZeneca dose in March but have since been unable to get a second.

Sri Lanka meanwhile has been aggressively rolling out China's Sinopharm jab after receiving two million doses in the past week. On Wednesday, the program was opened to pregnant women.

The island, in the middle of a ferocious third wave of infections, announced last month it was also buying 13 million Sputnik V vaccines from Russia.

The head of Sri Lanka's Covid-19 response, army chief Shavendra Silva, said on Wednesday that Colombo hopes to vaccinate the entire adult population by early next year. 

The country has also asked Japan for 600,000 AstraZeneca jabs so it can offer a second dose to people who received a first shot, the president's office said on Wednesday.

Elsewhere in the region, Bangladesh has been giving only second doses of the AstraZeneca shot since late April as supplies dwindle.

Health Minister Zahid Maleque last month said the country wants to buy 50 million doses from Sinopharm.

It also wants to buy 5 million Sputnik doses, Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen said this week after meeting the Russian ambassador.

Momen said his country has sought two million AstraZeneca doses from the United States, which has announced it plans to export 80 million vaccine doses around the world.

A Pfizer consignment also reached Dhaka last week under the Covax initiative, a program backed by the World Health Organization (WHO) to distribute vaccines to poorer nations.

India has not said when exports might resume. On Tuesday it said it had ordered 440 million doses from Serum and local producer Bharat Biotech for use in India.

It has also made an advance order for 300 million doses of a vaccine -- yet to be approved -- made by Hyderabad-based Biological E.

US eases travel warnings

The United States dials back warnings against travel to dozens of countries including Olympics host Japan and much of Europe. 

Meanwhile, a vaccine-sceptic pharmacist in the US is jailed for three years after admitting tampering with hundreds of Moderna doses by removing vials from refrigerators hours before their use.

Over 3.7 million dead

In Moscow however things are looking more worrying with the virus surging as officials struggle to persuade the public to get vaccinated.

The pandemic has killed at least 3,764,511 people worldwide since the virus first emerged in December 2019, according to an AFP compilation of official data.

The US is the worst-affected country with 598,326 deaths, followed by Brazil with 476,792, India 353,528, Mexico 229,100, Peru 187,157 and Britain with 127,854.

The figures are based on reports by health authorities in each country, but do not take into account upward revisions carried out later by statistical bodies. 

The WHO says up to three times more people have died directly or indirectly due to the pandemic than official figures suggest.

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