Nepalese drug regulators are reportedly investigating a gift of 2,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses brought to the country by a Bahraini sheikh who flew in to climb Mount Everest.
Sheikh Mohamed Hamad Mohamed Al Khalifa arrived in Kathmandu on Monday night with 15 others including three British nationals to climb the world’s highest mountain as part of a Bahrain Defence Force.
As well as mountaineering equipment and provisions their expedition is also bringing in enough doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to inoculate 1,000 people, according to posts on their official Instagram.
The vaccines will be administered en route to the summit to residents of a village near a Himalayan range who recently renamed a local hill after the Gulf country’s royal family.
“While they are climbing, they will pass by a village with 1,000 citizens living by the Bahrain Royal Peaks and get them all vaccinated,” a post by Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, a national security adviser and major-general, said.
“The much needed vaccines from Bahrain will be delivered in the coming days under the guidance of the Nepal minister of health,” another post said. “Planning and administration will start early tomorrow.”
But the gesture came as a surprise to Nepal’s drug regulator, who told a local newspaper he was not aware that any vaccine supplies were arriving in the country.
“We have deployed a team of drug inspectors to investigate how the vaccines were brought into the country without any prior approval,” Bharat Bhattarai, the director general of the Department of Drug Administration, told the Kathmandu Post. “We did not know that vaccines were being imported from Bahrain.”
He said anyone importing vaccines into the country had to do it through official channels to ensure cold chain and safety requirements were met.
The Bahraini team, who have all reportedly been vaccinated, will spend a week in a hotel quarantining before they mount the 79-day expedition.
A representative from the climbing company that is organising the attempt told the Himalayan Times that members of the expedition would be administering the vaccines.
“Five members of the team will travel to the rural municipality to distribute 2,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines against the Covid-19 infection for the people of Samagaun village,” he said.
Nepal, which has reported just over 3,000 deaths from the pandemic, has attracted vaccine donations from China and India as the pair vie for influence in the country. It also received 348,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the Covax vaccine-sharing scheme.
An expedition of the Himalayan mountain Manaslu by the same Bahraini team last year prompted local government representatives of the village that will receive the vaccines to name a section of the mountains after the family.
Residents of another village in the district had previously named a mountain “Harry Hill”, after Prince Harry, who helped to rebuild a school in the area after a devastating earthquake in 2015.
The renaming spree has proved controversial, according to local media, with permission rarely sought from national authorities.