Moment of truthThe leadership should leave no stone unturned to manage the vaccine shortage.
For Nepalis, the first glimmer of hope amid the ongoing pandemic arrived with a million doses as a grant from India, enabling the government to launch the first phase of the vaccine rollout to frontline workers and select professions. But owing to the massive disparity in global demand and production capacity, the government, which still awaits the supply of a million doses that it has procured from the Serum Institute of India, had to quickly change the original plan of vaccinating everyone above 55 to ensure there were enough second doses for those vaccinated in the first phase and a botched second phase.
The hard truth is that this situation was inevitable, and as cases surge in India for the first time in three months, Nepal is in a precarious position. The government’s plan to procure an additional 5 million doses has hit a wall since the manufacturer has refused to sell them directly to the government. Although the government has now roped in the private sector to procure the scarce Covishield, global demand continues to soar as more countries approve its use and battle to secure the precious doses. The shortage has even affected the World Health Organisation’s COVAX facility, under which Nepal qualifies to receive the vaccines under grant assistance, but uncertainty looms as supply is insufficient.
As frustrating as the truth is, we have to understand that the pandemic will only prolong our fragile situation without a robust procurement and distribution strategy. Next week marks a year into the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed 3,015 lives and infected 275,625 people as of Thursday, but we have to be wary that the situation can quickly spiral out of hand if we let our guard down. It cannot be business as usual unless everyone is vaccinated, and the responsibility to ensure jabs for everyone is of the government, which has to now explore options beyond Covishield and activate diplomatic channels to pursue any possibilities. Baluwatar must prioritise where it lags and work to speed up the vaccination drive and win the public’s confidence.
Extraordinary situations require extraordinary measures. The leadership, for once, needs to take the Covid-19 situation seriously and leave no stone unturned to manage the shortage in vaccine supplies, and this it must do at the earliest because science is clear on the pace of inoculation and a successful vaccination campaign. We had a great start with the vaccines arriving earlier than expected, but a supply deficit has now brought the immunisation drive to a halt, to the extent that the Health Ministry doesn’t even have a new schedule. With some 700,000 doses in stock and wastage estimates unavailable, jabs are enough only for those who have taken the first dose.
Bluntly put, a vaccine shortage puts our lives at risk, especially the vulnerable population above 55 years of age and those with comorbidities. The dearth of vaccines is a dire reality that should guide our goal of inoculating everyone eligible by September. Thus, the government needs to draw a revised plan based on accurate supply forecasts, vis-a-vis the target population before launching the third phase of the vaccination drive. There should be no room for hasty attempts, as we witnessed in the first and second phases.