Heed the protocolThe government has consistently failed to set the priorities right amid a public health emergency.
As of Saturday, which was the extended deadline for the 10-day nationwide campaign to inoculate frontline workers, only 184,875 people had taken the first of two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, according to the Ministry of Health and Population. That’s 245,125 doses short of the ministry’s immunisation plan to vaccinate 430,000 health workers, support staff at health facilities, female community health volunteers, security personnel involved in handling the bodies of Covid-19 fatalities, sanitation workers and elderly people living in care homes.
Given the risks of infection and the potential severities coronavirus may cause, and an equally disastrous scenario where the virus could mutate, the importance of the Covid-19 vaccine cannot be overstated. However, there seems to be widespread hesitancy even among frontline workers to take the jab, in addition to lack of an effective awareness programme and logistical hurdles to overcome terrain, storage and human resource issues. In an apparent failure to set the priorities right amid a public health emergency, the Oli administration continues to slip on its responsibilities to the people.
Inexcusable as it is, the government, instead of increasing efforts to meet its vaccination targets as per the priority list, has now decided that frontline workers can take the jab along with the rest of the population according to age group. Over the weekend, the ministry, in a clear violation of its protocol, not only asked its bureaucrats to take the jab but also decided to inoculate diplomatic staff and journalists from Monday, a move which has drawn immense criticism and fed public cynicism.
Last week, we had news of vaccine grants and government plans to procure more doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, which has instilled hope and a sense of certainty and confidence in the public; but just because we can, we shouldn’t jump the vaccine line. The government should immediately reverse its decision and ensure that the vaccine distribution is fair and as per the original protocol.
Diplomatic staff and journalists should also respect the protocol and wait for their turn instead of complying with the immoral whim of the government. There should be no second thoughts about the protocol which rightly prioritises frontline staff and high-risk groups. Meanwhile, the United Nations office in Nepal on Sunday clarified that it had no plans of having all its staff and dependents vaccinated this week and that it would follow the prioritisation plan as per the population categories.
Ensuring everyone is vaccinated is the ultimate solution. The ministry needs to make rational decisions. It needs to do the proper math regarding how it plans to inoculate 72 percent of the population, considering the number of vaccine doses it expects as grants and intends to procure from India. A proper calendar must be drawn based on how the vaccine rollout will be held in phases. Parallelly, the government must also be on its toes and follow global developments as it is more and more likely that there will be more vaccines to choose from as health regulators across the globe assess the efficacy of new vaccine candidates.
The government must maintain a clear line of communication with the public. This is something that the bureaucrats at the ministry and the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre continue to evade. For instance, there is no reliable information on the various studies the government is conducting to assess the spread of the coronavirus in the country, and quarantine requisites continue to be flouted and revised with no scientific thought process.
Multiple studies conducted over the year show how public mistrust is largely fed by lack of risk communication and poor handling of the pandemic. The government should be wary that its actions now can have detrimental effects in the near future when the vaccination drive for the general population is held en masse. We have an opportunity to make a big impact with an awareness campaign and to ensure jabs for all. Let’s not blow it.