Covid-19 immunisation to be halted as vaccine flow stopsExisting stock will be used for the second dose to be given from April 20. Government should approach other manufacturers too, experts suggest.
With the government’s failure to procure enough Covid-19 vaccines to ensure smooth supply, it has halted the ongoing immunisation campaign indefinitely.
The Ministry of Health and Population said that it has no plan to resume the drive immediately.
“Right now, we do not have a new schedule to administer vaccines to those who have not taken it so far,” an official at the Health Ministry told the Post, asking not to be named. “We need to secure the second dose for those who took the first, and there is no certainty of getting additional doses immediately to extend the second phase.”
The second phase of immunisation of those over 65 years began on March 7 and ended on Tuesday.
Earlier, officials at the Health Ministry were considering administering the vaccine in stock to those above 60.
The ministry said there are around 700,000 doses in stock at various storage facilities across the country.
Nepal has so far received 2.348 million doses of vaccine—1 million under grant assistance from India; another million of the 2 million doses that the government has bought from the Serum Institute of India; and 348,000 doses under the COVAX facility.
So far, over 1,644,000 have been immunised in the first and second phases of the campaign.
During the first phase of the vaccination drive, between January 27 and March 4, 438,879 people were vaccinated while over 1.2 million people have been immunised in the second phase.
According to Dr Roshan Pokhrel, chief specialist at the Health Ministry, all of the existing stock of over 700,000 doses and the 1 million doses due to be delivered by the Serum Institute of India soon is required for the second dose for those who have already received the first.
“We will administer the second dose of vaccine from April 20 to all who took the first dose,” Pokhrel told the Post.
The Health Ministry’s attempt to procure an additional 5 million vaccine doses has not been successful, as officials say the manufacturing company has not responded yet.
Earlier, officials said they were ready to pay even $5.5 for each dose of vaccine but the manufacturing company also asked for an additional 10 percent for its agents.
“As per my understanding, India has halted the supply to ensure equal distribution to all countries,” Dr Bhagwan Koirala, chairman of Nepal Medical Council, a regulatory body of medical doctors, told the Post.
Public health experts, however, said authorities should explore other possibilities to immunise people at the earliest to contain the coronavirus contagion. They blamed the government decision to rely solely on the Serum Institute of India for the vaccine crisis.
“We should not have put all eggs in one basket,” Dr Anup Subedee, an infectious disease expert, told the Post. “Authorities should explore other options to bring the vaccine at the earliest.”
Nepal has to immunise 72 percent of its 30 million population, but only around 5.5 percent of the population has received the first dose so far.
Children under 14, whose population is 28 percent, cannot be administered the vaccine, as no coronavirus vaccine has been trialled on them.
Subedee said that the authorities should be ready to pay additional amounts if the country does not get the jabs at the previous rate and if it is still cheaper than other vaccines.
“We should also make our diplomatic channel active, as vaccines of several other companies have passed the third-phase trial and companies of other companies have agreed to produce them,” said Subedee.
But whether the government can afford vaccines manufactured in other countries is another question.
“The government has a compulsion to rely on the Indian companies, as vaccines manufactured in other countries are too expensive,” said Koirala.
Given the scarcity of the vaccines the world over and their relatively high costs and therefore the government’s inability to procure them, authorities say that Nepal will now have to rely on the vaccines that the COVAX facility will provide.
In its commitment forecast in February, the facility said it would provide 2,256,000 doses of the vaccines by May. It has committed to providing enough vaccines for 20 percent of the population in poor countries.
“I think another round of immunisation will start only after we get additional doses from COVAX,” Dr Shyam Raj Upreti, coordinator of the Covid-19 vaccine advisory committee, told the Post. “COVAX will supply us the vaccine within May.”