Officials mull vaccinating only those above 65 years on first three days of second phase of campaignSerum Institute is yet to deliver a million doses. Officials expect WHO to provide 300,000 and China 800,000 doses within a few days.
With just three days to go before the second phase of the Covid-19 vaccination campaign to inoculate those over 55, the Ministry of Health and Population is yet to secure sufficient doses of the vaccine to inoculate the targeted population.
Officials are therefore mulling immunising only those above 65 in the first three days of the campaign that begins on March 7.
The final decision is yet to be made but the failure to secure sufficient doses has forced them to revise the original plan.
“We will immunize all people above 55 years old in the second phase of the campaign, but we are thinking of immunising only those above 65 in the first three days,” an official at the Health Ministry, told the Post, asking not to be named. “We are struggling to arrange sufficient doses for the second phase.”
The government has bought two million doses of the vaccine from the Serum Institute of India. Officials at the Health Ministry had hoped that they would have sufficient doses of vaccine for the second phase of the campaign, with the 2,256,000 doses from the World Health Organization and the remaining half million doses from the one million provided by India under grant assistance on January 21.
Apart from this officials are hoping to get 800,000 doses of BBIBP-CorV vaccine developed by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products Co Ltd (BBIBP) in China under Sinopharm, which China is providing under a grant assistance within a few days, according to Roshan Pokhrel, chief specialist at the Health Ministry.
“We are expecting to get vaccines from China within the next few days, as we are launching a large-scale campaign at once,” said Pokharel.
However,the World Health Organization, which in early February had forecasted to provide 2,256,000 vaccine doses under the COVAX facility to Nepal by the end of the month, it recently informed the government that it can provide only little more than 300,000 doses in the first phases.
According to officials at the Health Ministry, the UN health agency has informed that it will deliver the first consignment on March 7.
Officially, however, plans to inoculate all those over 55 are still on.
“We are trying to arrange the sufficient doses and have not yet changed the original plan to inoculate people above 55 years old in the second phase of campaign.” Pokharel told the Post.
But he admitted that a reassessment is underway.
“Yes, we are reassessing the existing stock of vaccines and our total needs,” Dr Roshan Pokhrel, added.
According to the Health Ministry, there are 3.7 million people above the age of 55.
At present, the Health Ministry has only 1.5 million doses in stock and after supply from the World Health Organization’s COVAX facility, it will have only 1.8 million doses. The Serum Institute of India, to which the government has already paid 80 percent in advance for two million doses, has only supplied one million doses.
Given the lack of sufficient doses in stock, all the existing immunisation centers, that number more than 16,000 across the country, used for regular immunisation programmes of babies, will not be used in the second phase of the campaign.
“We have decided to immunise the people above 55 years old from two health facilities of the municipality,” Janardan Adhikari, health coordinator at the Tarakeshwor Municipality of the Kathmandu , told the Post.
The municipality runs its regular immunisation programme from over half a dozen centres.
“We don’t know the reason why we have been told to run only two immunisation centers in our municipality but we have been directed by the District Health Office to follow the instructions,” said Adhikari.
Despite the shortage of sufficient doses of the vaccine, the Health Ministry have also asked those serving in public transportation, teachers serving in both private and government institutions to receive jabs in the second phase of the campaign.
To immunize all the targeted population for the second phase around five million doses are required. Doctors say around 10 percent of the total doses will be wastage in the large scale immunisation campaign.
The ministry had requested Serum Institute India to sell another five million doses, required for the second doses to those taking the jabs in the first and second phase of the drive.
With the World Health Organization on February 16 authorising emergency use of Covishield, the global rollout of the vaccine supplies through Covax began and its demand went up.
Covishield, developed by the University of Oxford and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, the British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical, is the preferred choice of Nepali as the country’s existing system supports storage and supply of the vaccine.
But there is not enough of it for the second phase that begins on Sunday.
“Earlier, we were worried about the arrangement of sufficient doses for the second dose,” the official at the Department of Health Services, told the Post, asking not to be named, as he was not authorized to speak with the media. “But now we are facing acute shortage of the vaccine for even the first dose of the second phase.”